On the sidelines of this year’s APEC Summit in Beijing, the United States and China announced a landmark reciprocal visa arrangement. With the US and China now offering longer-term visas to each other’s citizens than ever before, the deal is expected to spur tourism, facilitate bilateral business transactions, ease the process for educational exchanges, and ultimately enable greater people-to-people engagement between the two nations.
The arrangement, which went into effect on November 12, will extend the validity of short-term business, tourist, student, and exchange visas issued to each country’s citizens. Those who qualify for non-immigrant business and tourist status will be eligible for multiple-entry visas for up to ten years, while students and those on academic exchange are eligible for multiple-entry visas valid for up to five years or the length of their program. The deal represents a significant extension for these types of visas, and will save tourists and business travelers from having to renew their visas every year, while students won’t have to reapply after traveling home or taking short trips outside their host country.
This agreement is in keeping with President Obama’s goal of increasing American exports and maintaining a competitive advantage in the global business arena. By reciprocally extending visa validity to China, the US joins other nations including the UK and Canada who have already recognized the benefits for increased trade ties and improved commercial linkages.
The new visa arrangement is set to benefit America’s ever growing education export industry. In total, 31% of foreign students in the US come from China, and last year these students spent upwards of $8 billion. Many students come from fast-growing Chinese cities such as Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and an education in the US helps to encourage closer trade links with the United States, suggests Neil G. Ruiz of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. Increasing the length of student visas should also boost the number of US students going to China, which programs such as the 100,000 Strong Foundation are working to encourage.
The American tourism industry also stands to gain from the new bilateral deal. According to the State Department, nearly 70 million international travelers visited the US in 2013, supporting nearly 1.1 million American jobs. China is the fastest growing outbound travel market in the world, accounting for 1.8 million visitors to the US last year. Rising incomes among Chinese citizens are expected to result in significant growth in outbound tourism in the coming years, with over seven million Chinese expected to visit the US annually by 2021, contributing nearly $85 billion to the US economy.
In addition to economic benefits, reciprocal visa validity can encourage further trust between China and the US, while greater opportunities for people-to-people interaction will hopefully spur greater cultural understanding between people of both nations.
Jonathan Gordon is a graduate of the University of Sydney, and a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C.