Amidst the pomp and flash of red carpet airport welcomes, a banquet with a cultural show and elaborate fireworks display, and meetings by heads of state came a more quotidian announcement: China and the U.S. will expand the duration of visas each country grants the other, president Barack Obama announced in a speech to the world leaders attending the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
Don’t be fooled by what sounds like a low-level border control issue. Starting on Wednesday, business, student, and tourist visas that previously had to be renewed yearly will be extended, with students given five-year terms and business visas good for a decade.
That’s expected to provide a major payoff in trade and investment, Obama noted in his speech. China is the U.S.’s fastest growing export market. Meanwhile, investment from China in the U.S. has increased sixfold in the past five years. “All these things mean jobs for the American people; and deepening these ties will mean more jobs and opportunity for both of our peoples,” the U.S. president said.
“Now, of course, that will be good for the businessmen who are going back and forth all the time,” Obama continued. “But keep in mind, last year, 1.8 million Chinese visitors to the United States contributed $21 billion to our economy and supported more than 100,000 American jobs. This agreement could help us more than quadruple those numbers.”
The U.S. processes more than 1.95 million non-immigrant visas in China per year, 14 percent of its global total and more than in any other country, according to the U.S. Department of State. Chinese nationals make up the largest group for foreign students studying in the U.S., with 316,000 student and exchange visas issued in China in the most recent fiscal year, up 12 percent over the previous 12 months.
The reciprocal visa extension “will increase travel and exchanges, enhance mutual understanding between our countries, and benefit our economies by increasing the ease of trade and investment,” the State Department said in a Nov. 10 statement.
According to the China Tourism Academy, 116 million Chinese tourists will spend $155 billion overseas this year, more than travelers from any other country and up 20 percent from 2013. That figure could rise to $194 billion by 2015, Morgan Stanley estimated last year.