Ever since China flung open its doors in 1978, many Chinese have wanted to visit the United States. There’s a great deal of fascination with the world’s greatest superpower. But unfortunately, the door has almost always been closed. Initially by tight Chinese standards that restricted who could have access to a passport, but over the past decade, by tight American visa standards.
This issue has been discussed before (Washington Post article, 2006), although not many in the West are fully aware how difficult the visa issue has been in years past. The only Chinese who’ve entered the United States in the last two decades have been here to study, work, or to visit family. And even in these cases, after presenting an entire library of supporting documents to an often hostile consulate officer, a significant percentage (majority?) are denied visas for no obvious reason. It’s ironic to me that even as the United States government funds dissident groups in China in an attempt to spread the word on democracy, it keeps out hundreds of thousands of average Chinese willing to pay for the privilege of visiting.
But China’s economic growth has finally led to a change. Starting this fall, Chinese tourists will be given the opportunity to visit in groups. Chinese tourists will still have to appear at consulates for a face-to-face interview, but the indication is that visas will now be granted to the vast majority of qualified applicants.
Below is an article (文章) with a few early details:
Today, the first two tour groups headed for the United States left from Shanghai’s Pudong airport; the 79 members of these groups are about to begin a 10-day tour of the United States. The first set of tour groups to the United States are separately organized in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou; nearly 240 people are expected to participate.
Related officials have expressed that opening American tourism to Chinese tourists is a major achievement of the Second Sino-American Strategic Economic Dialogue. So, since these Chinese tourists are headed to America during the Fourth Strategic Dialogue, there’s a possibility officials will use the welcoming ceremony to announce new agreements on the subject.
In the Shanghai group, other than one individual who was refused, the other 79 visitors were successful in applying for a US visa. The price set for the trip is 19800 RMB (~3100 USD), and includes both American coasts. The travelers will fly from Shanghai to San Francisco, where they will visit the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and other famous tourist sites. On the 19th, the Shanghai group will travel to Washington DC and join the other two groups at a welcoming ceremony arranged by the United States Commerce Department, and representatives of the American travel industry.
I wasn’t aware it was so difficult to visit the US as tourist from China because of the restrictions from the US side.
Yes, it was. A few years ago I applied a visa to US in London, even that wasn’t easy. However I was granted one in the end.
A Chinese collegue of mine was denied a visa to go to the US on business with no reason being given. The guy was married, owned a home, and would only have been in our US office a month or so, and his work was important for our company, but he was still denied a visa.
US visa restrictions have become insane – my sister did her post-doc at UC Riverside, California, and had to spend ages waiting for her visa. The US embassy insists on ‘interviewing’ all people applying for visas as well as taking the finger prints of all visitors. The interviews are all done in London, making a trip to the US for groups based outside London (e.g.,orchestras) prohibitively expensive as they need to pay for transport and accomodation for eacha nd everyone in the group. Interviewees are kept waiting for hours for what is, 99% of the time, a total waste of time. In my sisters case she almost ended up getting put on a plane back to the UK as she had been given the wrong visa form by the US embassy, and she arrived out of office hours so the immigration officials could not contact her office. Luckily she managed to get the mobile phone number of her supervisor and the immigration officials. A similar thing happened to my parents when they traveled to see her – they didn’t have her address as they were meeting her at the airport, so rather than simply put down “Holiday Inn, LA” or some-such they left the address blank on the immigration form. The officials refused to allow them entry unless they had an address that they were staying at. My sister was waiting on the other side but my parents did not have her phone number, and the officials refused to page her on the tannoy. Happily they did eventually get through to her – but this is how people from the US’s ‘best ally’ get treated. I think you will see a lot of countries impose similar restrictions on US citizens (particularly the ridiculous and offensive finger-printing of every visitor) if this kind of behaviour continues. No wonder the number of UK citizens visiting the US is down by more than 10% compared to what it was five years ago.
I agree with you on this one. Chinese people make good guests, and even better residents. I wish our government would really seal up the southern border, and promote much more Asian immigration (not that there’s anything wrong with Hispanic immigration, it would just be nice to have a better mix of people). I hope to see a lot more Chinese tourists in the States – and a lot more Americans in China!
I have heard of plenty of US visa horror stories. One case I witnessed happened right after the X-mas in 2002. A Chinese graduate student came back from the US to accompany his wife to apply visas together. His visa application was granted but his wife’s was not. He got upset and said he did not want the visa if his wife could not get one. The visa official just took his passport and stamped it, saying something like “you’ll never get to enter the US.”
When my 75 year old grandmother came to visit us in the United States in the late 90s, we certainly didn’t feel comfortable having her travel by herself. We applied for a visa for one of my aunts to travel with her. My aunt also owns a home, has a career, a husband/son who weren’t traveling with her… but ultimately, her visa was denied, while my grandmother’s was granted.
My grandmother ended up traveling by herself, while my aunt promised she’d never go to the US after that humiliation. It’s too bad. After decades, the vast majority of my relatives haven’t visited us, because visas are basically impossible for anyone but your parents.
Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to change my aunt’s mind…
@Buxi – In the end, these kind of visa restrictions are fairly self-defeating as they only prevent the travel of law-abiding people, and are bound to cause offence. People who really want to emigrate can do so illegally – visa restrictions do little to stop this.
Much is said in the UK about ‘economic immigrants’, i.e., people who come to live and work in the UK for economic reasons. Practically nobody seem to point out the obvious – that these people would no be able to find work here if there was no demand for their skills.
Charles Liu says
Couple of my customers in Shenzhen wanted to invest in US, but they couldn’t get a visa to come check things out.
A few years ago “intention to return” just wasn’t enough. Fees were hiked, people were rejected wholesale. Another word, ch!nks just weren’t allowed.
Glad to see things are starting to change.
actually now, the us is allowing everyone in from china. it is funny, the opposite is true now. i know a naturalized chinese who wanted to go back to china to retire because it was cheaper there. the chinese embassy rejected her because of fears that she might over stay her visa.
There’s been a lot of discussion in other ex-pat blogs about the recently tightened visa restrictions.
My impression is, applying for a visa to China will now be as tough as applying for a visa to Europe… but still not nearly as tough as applying to the United States. It’s mostly a matter of putting together the necessary paperwork, after which denials are really rare.
I thought it was interesting that they’re cracking down on the “backpacker” culture though, and preventing “unqualified” ex-pats (based on education degree) from teaching or working in China. I don’t know whether the expats on this blog can give us details on how this is affecting them… but personally, I think it’s a necessary step in the right direction. I think foreigners *should* be welcomed in China, and contribute quite a bit to the country (see discussion on race!)… but this should still only be done on terms that the hosts are comfortable with.
As far as naturalized Chinese who want to retire in China… they should be able to apply for Chinese citizenship; I’m not sure of the procedure, but it shouldn’t be too hard as long as they’re willing to give up American citizenship. (A Chinese green card is probably out of the question?)
‘I hope to see a lot more Chinese tourists in the States – and a lot more Americans in China’
I hope so too!
My holiday in Big Apple was really pleasant, although after watch ‘Monk’, I wish I had got to San Francisco instead. 🙂
On the contrary to what most people think about US visa application process, I did have a good first impression. First of all, all the consular officers speak Chinese to a certain degree, which is almost unlikely in European consulates. Secondly even though I know they don\’t like their job, they were trying to make the best of it. Although unreasonable rejections abound, most of the rejections are due to unpreparedness or suspicious motives like the guy before me. He was applying the visa to study English in the US for years. He didn\’t come up with a plan after that. He said he would come back, but as the consular officer said, that didn\’t make much sense. It would have been more reasonable if he would later pursue a higher education or something. Even thought it might have been true, but I wasn\’t totally convinced and I believe that was what the consular officer said. My visa application went through fast after the consular officer knew that I was living in Europe for years. I was worried because I got \”rejected\” when I applied for the visa in Madrid and was told to apply in China. Anyway the business visa that I was granted is for multiple entries with one year, which means I can go to the US anytime I want until next March. That is also very generous, I don\’t know any other European countries would do that.
On the contrary to what most people think about US visa application process, I did have a good first impression. First of all, all the consular officers speak Chinese to a certain degree, which is almost unlikely in European consulates. Secondly even though I know they don’t like their job, they were trying to make the best of it. Although unreasonable rejections abound, most of the rejections are due to unpreparedness or suspicious motives like the guy before me. He was applying the visa to study English in the US for years. He didn’t come up with a plan after that. He said he would come back, but as the consular officer said, that didn’t make much sense. It would have been more reasonable if he would later pursue a higher education or something. Even thought it might have been true, but I wasn’t totally convinced and I believe that was what the consular officer said. My visa application went through fast after the consular officer knew that I was living in Europe for years. I was worried because I got “rejected” when I applied for the visa in Madrid and was told to apply in China. Anyway the business visa that I was granted is for multiple entries with one year, which means I can go to the US anytime I want until next March. That is also very generous, I don’t know any other European countries would do that.
Sorry for the double posting.
Everything it’s easy for the visa if you are european, or white..that’s it…if they see you are from another race when they interview you they deny it.
I’ve seen old people 80 or more yrs. old they marry chinese women and they get the visa for their wife but if you marry a chinese woman and you are from another color they deny it…It’s a shame …and then we lie to the world we are no racist..,.SHAME
Seeing there are a few Canadians on board, I’d like to ask this. What is it like, I wonder, for Mainland Chinese to get visas to visit Canada? Vancouver is known as HongCouver due to the large HongKong population there. This was mainly due to the flights of Hong Kong middleclass during the years leading to the return of HK to China in 1997. Has allowing middleclass Chinese immigrants join the Canadian community improved Canadian lifestyle? Has the Chinese population chased the Whites out of places like Richmond? I’ve only heard it been said, I DON”T have the facts. This is why I am asking.
I remember reading and hearing that there were a lot of gripes in the late 90s from the local white Canadian community. They were mainly blaming the rise of property prices on the sudden influx of property hording Hong Kongers. Then they complained about the denegration of their prestine landscape and serene civilized cultured environment due to the sudden home construction craze of large ostentatious, sometimes badly designed homes brought on by wealthy Hong Kongers with “bad taste” . I am not at all surprised there, Ha ha ha…I am seeing history repeating itself now here in the Mainland.
I know Thailand and Malaysia/S’pore are the most popular mainland tourist destinations simply because of their welcoming policies. Isn’t it interesting that Muslim countries and the Buddhist monarchy are more open than all of Christendom? Yet they keep on and insist on sending missionaries to where they are unwelcomed.
How hard is it for mainland Chinese to vist other Western countries such as NEw Zealand and Australia? USA is a huge country with small population, and it’s the most powerful affluent nation on earth, the meanest kid on the globe. So, why the meanness? This was the trend even before Bush bullshit through with his war-on-terror policy. Is it racial discrimination, pure and simple?
TommyBahamas is absolutely right, the US government practices some of the most overt racism in the world. When there is “genocide” in Europe we send in the troops, when it happens in Africa, we ignore it. The Statue of Liberty is a huge joke. It is solely intended for white Europeans, not Orientals, or Africans. There is a great love of people from India due to the fact it was once part of the British Empire (start getting the picture…South Africa the same way). I have friends from China who have tried to get their 60 year old mother to visit them and their grandchildren and the USA says “No”. Yet the US rolls out the red carpet and the US government plays trumpets welcoming the illegal aliens in. So she sits alone in China, wondering if she will ever see her children and grandchildren again. Farm votes are important to the US government, people and families are expendable. Welcome to the corrupt Christian scams on “family values”. The Chinese “atheists” have far higher family values, morals, ethics, and a stronger work ethic than the most devote “born again” liars, Catholic pedophiles, and evangelistic money grubbers in the USA.
Patrick Markus says
It is a real nightmare for Chinese tourists to get visas to the US as well as for Europe. I work in the hospitality business, and it was difficult for the hotels where I worked to get more Chinese tourists. We tried several communication means (advertisement in Chinese travel magazines, business missions to China) and the only thing that worked was the Buzz Marketing on Chinese travel blogs. We gained new affluent Chinese tourists thanks to our campaign. We worked with China Elite Focus, a Hong Kong agency that made this very good campaign for us. I think when the US administration will realize that the United States are losing a very big amount of money coming from the Chinese outbound tourists that spend thousands of $ in shopping, maybe that will give more visas.