Why Aren’t Immigrant Visas Issued at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing?

New U.S. Embassy in BeijingCurrently, only nonimmigrant visas (NIVs) are issued by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Guangzhou is the only U.S. consular post in China that issues immigrant visas (IVs). Why?

The decision to stop issuing immigrant visas in Beijing was explained during a 1989 interview by Elizabeth Raspolic, Consul General at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing from 1986 to 1988: Continue reading “Why Aren’t Immigrant Visas Issued at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing?”

New Visa Appointment System at the U.S. Mission in China

The U.S. Mission in China will adopt a new system for paying nonimmigrant visa application fees, scheduling appointments, and returning passports, effective March 16, 2013. This is part of the State Department’s Global Support Strategy (GSS). U.S. Embassy in Beijing, New Process for U.S. Visa Applications (last visited Mar. 1, 2013), http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/niv_info.html. Continue reading “New Visa Appointment System at the U.S. Mission in China”

Chongqing Girl with Cancer Battles Visa Issues to Get U.S. Medical Treatment

Anni Wan, a 16-year-old from Chongqing diagnosed with cancer in her chin, was given three months to live. That’s when an American friend helped her seek out doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and get a B1/B2 (visitor) visa for medical treatment from the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. Continue reading “Chongqing Girl with Cancer Battles Visa Issues to Get U.S. Medical Treatment”

Guerrilla Diplomacy: The U.S. Government Sparks a Fury on Sina Weibo (China’s Twitter) about Visa Reciprocity

The U.S. Consular Mission is frustrated by its failure to convince China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reciprocally increase visa validity for visas for business visitors and tourists. Now, it appears that the U.S. is engaging in guerrilla diplomacy: encouraging Chinese netizens to speak out on the issue.

Continue reading “Guerrilla Diplomacy: The U.S. Government Sparks a Fury on Sina Weibo (China’s Twitter) about Visa Reciprocity”

Obama’s Executive Order on Planning for Improved U.S. Visa Processing in China

President Obama has issued a January 19 executive order aimed at improving U.S. visa processing in China. [1] That’s a good thing. Issuance of visas to qualified applicants is an important driver of U.S. jobs and economic growth. The President’s order requires the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to create a plan within 60 days to:

  1. “increase nonimmigrant visa processing capacity in China … by 40 percent over the coming year”; and
  2. “ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application….”

Continue reading “Obama’s Executive Order on Planning for Improved U.S. Visa Processing in China”

State Department Press Conference on Meeting the Growing Demand for U.S. Visas in China

The U.S. consular mission in China adjudicated more than one million visas during fiscal year 2011, with an approval rate of “nearly 90 percent,” said Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs Chuck Bennett at a November 8 press conference. That represents a 35%  increase in visa issuances over last year. Continue reading “State Department Press Conference on Meeting the Growing Demand for U.S. Visas in China”

Contest: Who’s The Girl in This Photo from the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai?

This 14-year-old girl went on to become world famous. This image is from a certificate issued by the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai to authorize her admission to the United States. If you can name her, you’ll win a USD 10 (RMB 60) gift certificate to Starbucks or Amazon.com, whichever you prefer. Post your answer in the comments. Good luck! Continue reading “Contest: Who’s The Girl in This Photo from the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai?”

U.S. Retailers Upset About Long Visa Waits for Chinese Travelers

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June 9th’s Wall Street Journal reports that visitors from China are big spenders in the U.S. (averaging over $6000 per person) but visa red tape means they often opt for Europe.

“U.S. retailers are feeling left out, thanks to a clunky visa process that can force would-be tourists to wait months for permission to travel. Last year, 38% of Chinese travelers on long-distance trips visited Europe, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Just 13% came to the U.S.”

With that in mind, U.S.-based retailers like Polo and Saks Inc. are lobbying the State Department to ease the visa process for Chinese visitors. Reducing wait times is a primary goal. Getting a visa interview in Beijing currently takes about 57 days, according to the State Department. In Shanghai, it can take 65 days.

Chinese visitors love to shop in the U.S. Nearly 94% went shopping here, beating out restaurants, sightseeing and museums as the most popular activity.

Summer Time Means Long Appointment Waits at the U.S. Consulates in China

With summer quickly approaching, the U.S. Consulates in China are experiencing longer and longer waits for scheduling nonimmigrant visa appointments.

Here are the earliest B1/B2 (visitor) appointments as of May 18:

Guangzhou: June 13 (26 days)
Chengdu: June 28 (41 days)
Shenyang: June 29 (42 days)
Beijing: July 8 (51 days)
Shanghai: July 15 (58 days)

Here are the earliest F/M/J appointments:

Chengdu: May 23 (5 days)
Shanghai: May 24 (6 days)
Shenyang: May 24 (6 days)
Guangzhou: June 13 (26 days)
Beijing: July 15 (58 days)

Source: http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/niv_info.html. (The Consulates don’t publish timing for other visa categories).

By this time in 2010, appointment waits had risen to as long as 100 days. See here. So maybe this year we’re seeing some progress. However, at nearly 60 days, visa waits in Beijing and Shanghai are now as much as double the target of a maximum 30 day wait set by the State Department. The U.S. Consular Mission in China has not yet formulated and implemented a reasonable plan for staffing, facilities, and procedures to meet the growing nonimmigrant visa demand in China. One of the implications is that the U.S. is missing out on huge amounts of tourism income that could be growing our economy.

One more gripe. I’ve blogged before about how it’s bad policy for the Consulates to require payment of the visa application fee (usually 938 RMB/140 USD) at CITIC Bank before scheduling an appointment. That’s a pain if you’re an applicant with a tight travel schedule. If you can’t get an appointment that meets your schedule, your fee won’t be refunded. (It’s not transferable to another person either, although it’s valid for one year).

In the past, the Embassy has defended this policy by saying that you can look at the Embassy’s website to find out the visa waits before you pay the visa application fee. But now the Embassy has basically admitted that’s useless: “Please note that wait times vary hour-by-hour, and can change dramatically from one day to the next and even within the same day. The only authoritative source of wait-time information is the Call Center at the time you book your appointment.”

In sum, you need to pay the nonrefundable application fee before you will find out if you can get a timely appointment. The Embassy’s diplomatic mission will be harmed if too many customers feel like they gambled on the appointment system and lost their money.

Are there ways to mitigate foreseeable problems like those described here? How about making the fee refundable so long as any cancellation is done 48 hours in advance of the appointment? Or how about paying the fee by phone after the operator tells you the next available appointment time?

Now’s the time to reduce appointment waits and fix the Embassy’s appointment procedures.

AmCham-China Corporate Visa Program: Fee Increase

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The American Chamber of Commerce-China, located in Beijing, is increasing fees for its corporate visa program.  Effective January 1, 2011, the fee will increase to 300 RMB, except that for applicants who do not require a consular interview the fee will remain 250 RMB.

As background, U.S. companies with offices in China can join the AmCham organizations in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Dalian. Each AmCham has established a program with the local consulate to facilitate U.S. nonimmigrant visa applications for employees (and in some cases business partners and employees’ family members). While the programs vary, the basic idea is that the Consulate does a background investigation of the company and assigns a responsible individual at the company to coordinate the visa applications. The Consulate then sets aside visa interview slots for the AmCham program, so interviews are usually faster than through the regular channel. Employees also spend less time waiting at the Consulate on their appointment day than regular applicants. Resulting visa approval rates are high because the Embassy has already confirmed that the company is legit and that the company has truly asked the employee to travel to the U.S. on business.

Our law firm represents companies and individuals with respect to all aspects of U.S. immigration law. We can coordinate visa applications at all Consulates in China to provide clarity regarding the visa application timeline and visa eligibility. This includes not just the AmCham corporate visa programs, but all the different channels, including CITIC Bank visa renewals, APEC travelers, the waiban channel for certain government employees, etc. Careful compliance with U.S. immigration laws can help a company establish a good reputation with the U.S. Consulates in China and can help minimize potential company and employee liability for U.S. immigration law violations.