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.
The U.S. consular mission in China includes the Embassy in Beijing plus Consulates in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Chengdu, Shenyang, and Wuhan. (No visas are issued in Wuhan).
The State Department’s goal is to expand to adjudicate 2.2 million nonimmigrant visas in China by fiscal year 2013, said Managing Director for Visa Services Ed Ramotowski. “That has a tremendous impact on the U.S. economy and job growth.”
During the past five years, visa issuances have already increased 124% in China. Further, the consular mission in China has struggled to deal with a spike in demand for visas each summer. For the past several years, the mission has added temporary staff and extended work hours, but waits for visa appointments sometimes grew to two or three months.
To meet its visa issuing goals, the Department plans to add more 50 positions in China. There are currently “just under 100 officers” in China. Some of the new positions will be for new Foreign Service officers. Others are “limited, non-career appointees.” That is, people who are already trained in Mandarin Chinese coming on one-year contracts, which are renewable for up to five years. They are going through all the same training that a Foreign Service officer would go through and some additional training. The advantage is that they already have Chinese language skills. And then based upon their performance, their contract can be renewed up to five years. The new officers should arrive in the spring and summer of 2012.
The mission is also adding additional visa interview windows:
* 22 in Guangzhou
* 20 in Shanghai
* 8 in Chengdu
* 8 in Beijing
Opening additional consular posts for visa adjudication seems unlikely in the short term. Mr. Bennett cited the need for funding and Congressional approval, as well as approval from the Chinese government.
Interviews via remote video conferencing also isn’t likely because it is prohibited by current legislation and would raise security concerns.
A major challenge is that B1/B2 visas for Chinese business and leisure travelers are currently limited to one-year validity. The Department wants to issue longer validity visas but U.S. law requires reciprocal treatment for U.S. citizens. Citizens of many countries are issued B1/B2 visas valid for ten years. Mr. Bennett said: “Our ambassador to China, Gary Locke, recently addressed this issue at senior levels to the Chinese Government. Longer validity visas would benefit both countries.”
“One of the points that the ambassador made very strongly was that, currently, China does not normally issue full one-year validity visas to U.S. citizens who are traveling there…. And until we can get to a point where we’re satisfied that they routinely issue that … it’s difficult to move beyond that to increase reciprocity.”
About 65% of foreign travelers coming to the U.S. don’t need visas. They come from Canada and 36 countries in the Visa Waiver Program. To participate in the Visa Waiver Program, a country must meet various security and other requirements, including:
* Having a low U.S. visa refusal rate.
* Offering visa-free travel for U.S. citizens.
* Sharing law enforcement and security-related data with the U.S.
About 9.6 million visa application were adjudicated worldwide in fiscal yeear 2011, a 17% increase over the previous year.
Fact Sheet: State Department Supports Global Travel Growth http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2011/10/176049.htm
Special Briefing: The Growing Demand for U.S Visas in China and Brazil