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Friday, November 28, 2014

Visa change may boost tourism to the US

(China Daily) Extended durations will enable Chinese travelers easier access to the United States, but could also result in a surge in wealthy nationals moving away for good.

Since she gave birth to her first child in the United States in 2011, Wu Na, a 34-year-old in Beijing, has been considering "buying" her way into the country.

However, her US entry ticket - the EB-5 Visa Program - requires a minimum investment of $500,000 and the creation of at least 10 full-time jobs.

Under the program, if foreign investors finance certain commercial projects and fulfill a number of requirements, they and their families can obtain permanent residence in the country, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Wu's husband owns a factory in Hebei province. The business generates annual revenue of millions of yuan, but the family is still hesitant about applying for so-called investment immigration because of the risks associated with such projects and the uncertainties inherent in living in a strange country.

So when US President Barack Obama announced a deal to extend visas for Chinese visitors to the US for up to 10 years, Wu was flooded with new hopes for her "American dream".

"The new visa policy means I can go to the US anytime I want within a 10-year period, and gain comprehensive knowledge about the country before making a decision about living there," she said with a smile.

Under the new bilateral policy, which came into effect on Nov 12, China and the US have extended the duration of multiple-entry, short-term tourist and business visas from one year to 10, and student visas have been extended from one year to five. Before the change, citizens of both counties had to renew their business, tourist, and student visas annually.

Yang Ping, a lawyer with the Global Investment Immigration Lawyers Association, said the new policy is good news for Chinese investors who are considering emigrating because it will help them make a rational choice.

However, he said, the new visa program doesn't mean the standards of eligibility for a US visa will be loosened, and the duration of each visit will still be determined by US Customs and Border Protection officers.

"As a result, the new visa program is not that helpful to people who intend to stay in the US for a long time, so more Chinese will choose investment immigration to the US," Yang said.

The latest statistics show that of the 10,692 EB-5 visas issued from October 2013 and September, 9,128 went to Chinese nationals.

John Deyong Hu, a lawyer with The Law Office of Hu and Associates, said most of his clients who opt for investment immigration cite better education for their children, and environmental factors such as safer food and cleaner air and water as the prime reasons, and these factors will not be influenced by the change in the visa policy.

While some travel industry insiders believe the new visa policy will have little impact on investment immigration in China, many agencies believe it will result in a surge in the number of Chinese traveling to the US.

Diana Dai, marketing director of vocations at Ctrip International Travel Service Co in Shanghai, said the company has noticed a significant rise in inquiries about travel to the US, and there are only a limited number of places left for the Christmas tours it has organized.

Gao Xing, CEO of Qunar, an online travel agency, told Beijing News that the change to the visa policy will make life much easier for students and businesspeople who want to travel to the US.

With the increasing number of flights and the greater convenience in procuring a visa, an increasing number of Chinese will visit the US for business, study, or leisure, and Gao's company has already started to focus on developing new tour programs for 2015.

According to a statement released by the White House on Nov 10, 1.8 million Chinese visited the US in 2013, contributing $21.1 billion to the economy and supporting more than 109,000 jobs.

As incomes in China continue to rise, the number of Chinese citizens able to afford international travel and tourism will hit about 7.3 million by 2021, contributing nearly $85 billion a year to the US economy and supporting 440,000 jobs, the statement said, adding that a competitive visa policy is needed to secure the US as the chosen destination for millions of Chinese travelers, who cite the ease of obtaining a visa as the second most important factor in deciding where to travel. Cost remains the most important reason.

US property purchases

In addition to the expected rise in the number of Chinese tourists to the US, the new visa rules will also boost the trend of Chinese people buying real estate in the country, according to property industry insiders.

Liu Jun, a real estate agent in Florida who has dealt mainly with Chinese buyers in the past 10 years, said she has recently received a large number of calls and e-mails from Chinese clients asking about property prices.

"The housing market is apparently getting a boost from the new visa rules, which make it rather attractive to wealthy Chinese who want to relocate or send their children or families to the US," she said.

The overheated housing market in China's big cities and the rising incidence of heavy pollution are encouraging Chinese people to buy homes in the US, she added.

According to statistics from the National Association of Realtors, the largest trade association in the sector, Chinese people became the largest overseas purchasers of homes in the US homes by dollar value last year, replacing Canadians at the top of the list.

From April 2013 to March, Chinese purchasers bought properties in the US worth a combined $22 billion, accounting for about 25 percent of total international sales.

"That number is likely to surge in the coming years," Liu said.

Back in Beijing, Wu Na may eventually contribute to that surge, but before making a decision about taking US citizenship, she is planning a trip to the country in December to research the property market, and is hoping to find a good community with a high-quality high school for her daughter. 

Only then will she make a final decision on whether to take the plunge.

Source: China Daily

from China Travel & Tourism News


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