According to a U.S. State Department press release, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing together with the four U.S. consulates general in mainland China have processed more than one million visa applications to date in fiscal year 2012.
This represents growth of almost 43% over the same period last fiscal year, when the consular mission had processed some 675,000 visa applications in China. (The federal government’s fiscal year begins on October 1).
To achieve this, the U.S. Mission increased staff, improved workflow, and expanded its program for waiving the in-person interview for prior visa holders, according to the State Department.
In June, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs cut the ribbon to mark the reopening of the old Embassy in Beijing on Guang Hua Lu , which is now serving as a second location for visa appointments. It’s apparently been nicknamed “er ban” (the second office) by U.S. embassy staff and currently handles over 500 applications per day. This is a measure that the American Chamber of Commerce in China had requested when new Embassy opened in 2008.
In addition to its embassy in Beijing, the U.S. Mission includes four consulates, which are located in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang. The U.S. also intends to begin issuing nonimmigrant visas in Wuhan, perhaps as early as next year.
China and Mexico are the only two U.S. missions that process more than one million visa applications each year, although Brazil is on track to become the third. (Nationals of some other countries may visit the U.S. without visas).
The accomplishments announced today reflect President Obama’s executive order to increase capacity and decrease wait times at the U.S. Mission in China in order to increase tourism-related U.S. jobs.
Other recommendations by the American Chamber of Commerce in China for improving visa processing include:
1. Negotiating longer visa validity on a reciprocal basis with the Chinese government. Currently, B1/B2 (visitor for business or pleasure) visas for Chinese nationals are valid for one year. A ten-year validity period would match U.S. visas granted to nationals of India and Brazil. If the Chinese government doesn’t agree to reciprocate, Congress should nonetheless consider legislative initiatives to extend visa validity for Chinese nationals , simply because increasing travel and tourism-related jobs and income is in America’s national interest.
2. Improving the appointment booking system: Under the current system, applicants in China must pay the nonrefundable visa application fee at CITIC Bank and, on top of that, buy a special phone card to book an appointment through a call center operated by Vision-X Enterprise Management, Ltd. This is inconvenient. And it’s not fair that applicants must pay before they know whether they will be granted an appointment in time for their U.S. conference, holiday, or other travel purpose. A system should be set up for applicants to pay and schedule the appointment in a single phone or online transaction. Over 8900 people have signed a petition to the White House to urge this. People’s Daily added its two cents. The U.S. Embassy’s Minister Counselor, Charles Bennett, has agreed. And the State Department plans to roll out a worldwide Global Support Strategy in 2014 with this capacity.
3. Translating the visa application form to Chinese. The State Department’s online Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, includes only English text visible on the webpage. But if the user hovers the cursor over a section of English text a Chinese translation will pop up. So the Chinese can’t be seen more than a bit at a time, can’t be printed, and can’t be saved. The State Department can provide better customer service.