As business travelers to China know well, securing visas for short- or long-term stays can be an expensive and time-consuming process. But when Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping met in mid-November, they hammered out a deal that could ease burdens on Chinese and American travelers alike. The latest development introduced changes to both countries’ systems that would extend visa validity up to 10 years for US and Chinese tourists and business travelers.

Already, there has been a strong demand for the new visas. According to the US consulate in Shanghai, more than 7,000 10-year visas were issued to Chinese citizens a week after the change was announced. Chinese consulates have also started giving out the new visas to US business travelers, though the total amount issued is unclear.

How will the latest development affect US companies doing business in China? First, the change will remove annual renewal requirements for US and Chinese business travelers. Second, the period in which US travelers can use a visa has been extended from the current maximum of one year to a maximum of 10 years. Under the new rules, US travelers visiting China for academic, vocational, and exchange purposes may apply for multiple-entry visas valid up to five years. US business travelers to China may apply for multiple-entry M business visas valid up to 10 years (for more information on China’s visa Categories, click here).

Chinese business travelers to the United States will enjoy equally open access. According to the new rules, they may apply for multiple-entry non-immigrant business and tourist visas valid for up to 10 years. Previously, the maximum validity for B1 and B2 business and tourist visas was one year. Chinese students in the United States under F1 and F2 academic visas, M1 and M2 vocational visas, and J1 and J2 exchange visitor visas will see their validity increase from one to five years.

The latest development should ease some of the difficulties business travelers experience while working in the US and China. Beyond that, some analysts have speculated that longer visa validity could lead to greater foreign investment in both countries. For example, one analyst has suggested that longer visas for Chinese students could facilitate greater investment in the US real estate sector because Chinese parents—eager to invest in long-term housing for their children—are more likely to purchase residential properties rather than rent.  Already, Chinese investors purchase more high-value  properties in the United States than buyers from any other country.

In addition, US officials are hoping that the new rules will boost inbound tourism. According to a White House fact sheet, 1.8 million Chinese tourists visited the United States in 2013, contributing $21 billion to the US economy. Under the new rules, the statement says that Chinese travelers are expected to bring in an estimated $85 billion per year by 2021.

While the new visa policy seems like a strong step toward facilitating business, some aspects remain unclear. For instance, the Chinese government has said that the new, 10-year period is not the default length for business visas, as it is in the United States. Instead, 10 years is the maximum validity allowed. This could create problems for US business travelers seeking new multiple-entry business visas, says immigration expert and lawyer Gary Chodorow.

Of course, the latest change will not address all of the visa-related issues faced by US citizens doing business in China. Those working and living in China long-term will still have to apply for Z visas, which are generally granted for periods of one to two years. The new rules do not change any aspect of the Z visa for US citizens working in China.

Travelers should also keep in mind that other visa processes and requirements won’t change following the announcement. Timelines for processing visas will likely remain the same and, in some cases, might lag based on the demand brought about by the latest developments. Although the validity for some visas has been extended, permitted durations of stay will not change. And finally, current visa holders will not be affected by the new rules unless and until they apply for a renewal.

[author] Stephanie Henry ([email protected]) is manager of government affairs at the US-China Business Council’s Washington, DC office. [/author]

(Photo by takuki via Flickr)

Posted by Stephanie Henry