By TINI TRAN, Associated Press Writer
Tue May 5, 10:28 am ET
China has tightened visa rules for citizens from the United States, which has reported the second highest number of swine flu cases in the world.
A notice dated May 3 on the Web site for the Chinese Embassy and its consulates in the U.S. said that all visa applications would now require six business days to process, with express and rush services for visa applications suspended until further notice.
It is unclear exactly why the rules have been changed, but it came hot on the heels of strident measures by China to contain any possible spread of swine flu, including quarantining of some foreign nationals.
The new visa regulation, effective as of May 4, appears to apply to all Chinese visas, including tourist and business categories. Visa applicants are also required to fill out a form declaring which countries and U.S. states they had visited two weeks prior.
Previously, U.S. nationals could obtain visas in as little as one day.
More than 1,400 people globally have been infected with swine flu, with Mexico reporting the most confirmed cases with 802. The United States so far has reported 380 cases in more than 30 states.
On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu refused to address the specific visa changes for Americans, saying only that “relevant adjustment (to the visa policy) is non-discriminatory and is not targeted at any country. The adjustment of visa policy will not affect the normal entry of foreigners and exchanges of people.”
The new rules do not appear to be in effect for any other country, including Spain or Canada, where swine flu has also been detected.
China has already earned the ire of the Mexican government for its aggressive quarantine measures after a Mexican traveler flying to Hong Kong via Shanghai was diagnosed with the illness over the weekend.
More than 70 Mexicans were quarantined in hotels and hospitals in mainland China. A plane chartered by the Mexican government arrived in several cities in China on Tuesday to pick up these and other Mexican citizens and take them home.
China has denied singling out Mexicans, saying it was purely a medical matter and that it hoped Mexico would be “objective and calm.”
A group of 29 Canadian students and their professor were also being held in isolation in China. Two Americans were in isolation while another two who were in quarantine have been released.
Last year, China severely tightened visa regulations ahead of the Olympic Games in August as part of a wider security clampdown, and earlier this month, travel agencies in Hong Kong reported that visa restrictions were being tightened again ahead of the 60th anniversary in October of the communist nation’s founding.
Last week, government spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the reports of changes to visa regulations were “groundless.”