Mission China Commemorates One Million Visa Adjudications in 2011
(AP Photo/Andy Wong)
U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China
Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs
Mission China Commemoration of
One Million Visa Adjudications in 2011
U.S. Embassy, Beijing
December 14, 2011
Moderator: Welcome everyone to the American Embassy. Today we’re marking this week, where we’ve adjudicated our one-millionth non-immigrant visa, and we want to mark this occasion with inviting our members, our friends from the media to come celebrate with us.
At this time I’d like to introduce our Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs, Chuck Bennett, to make some opening remarks.
Minister Counselor Bennett: Thank you, Richard.
Welcome to our travelers, first of all. Welcome to members of the press and to my colleagues who are also in the room.
Today, this morning, our former President, Jimmy Carter, was here at the embassy. He’s in China and he visited with the Embassy staff. It was a real reminder to many of us who have worked in China for a long time what this relationship between the United States and China is, and how it’s grown since our diplomatic relations were established in 1979.
I think, particularly in the people-to-people relationship between our countries, we can say that they’re thriving and they’re stronger than they’ve ever been. Whether it’s business, academics, or tourism, and we have people traveling to the U.S. for all of those fields today, the exchange across the Pacific Ocean between China and the United States is growing day by day.
For the first time ever this year, and why we’re celebrating this occasion today, the officers working at our Embassy here and at our consulates throughout China processed over one million non-immigrant visas. Only one other country in the world has done that, and that’s Mexico. This increase in China represents a 34 percent increase over the number of applications that we processed last year.
One of the things that we’re really looking to do throughout China is to make the process of applying for a U.S. visa, whether it’s for study, for tourism, for business, an easier process and one that doesn’t take quite as long. One of the things that we like to tell everybody, and I think the press can play a valuable role in this regard, is there are a couple of things that we ask people to do. One of them is to plan ahead on their travel. Don’t wait until the last minute to apply for your visa. If you know you’re traveling in three months or four months, go ahead and apply early.
Another thing that we encourage people to do is to use our, what we call drop-box service. For people who have traveled to the U.S. before, if your visa is not yet expired or it’s been expired for even up to one year, you don’t have to come in. You can drop off your passport and get a new visa.
So not only is the number of applications that we’re seeing increasing, but the number of people that we’re issuing visas to is increasing also. This year we expect about 90 percent of all the people who apply for visas will be issued a visa in China.
China now makes up about 11 percent of the total visa workload for the United States around the world. I think that’s a real significant number because it really does show the strength of our social and economic ties.
I think I’ll end with that, and I am very proud and very happy to introduce our United States Ambassador to China, Ambassador Gary Locke.
Ambassador Locke: Thank you very much, Chuck, for the introduction. It’s really a pleasure to be here and to celebrate this very important and momentous milestone achievement. Especially with some very special guests that we’ll introduce in just a few minutes.
As Chuck indicated, the relationship between the United States and China is a most important one, and as President Carter indicated this morning, perhaps the most important bilateral relationship in the world today.
There are few problems, few challenges facing the world that we cannot solve if the United States and China join together. But to do that we really need greater understanding of each other’s history, culture, language, government, and traditions. That’s why travel between our two countries by our two peoples is so important, whether for business, whether for education, or whether for tourism.
In the past year, as Chuck indicated, we’ve had more Chinese citizens traveling to the United States to take advantage of the opportunities that America offers. From that travel they’ve gained a greater appreciation and understanding of American values, the American way of life, its diversity, and indeed, its beauty.
Just last week throughout all of our consulates and the Embassy here in Beijing we have processed a million visa applications for business, for tourism, and for study. So far we’ve granted virtually 900,000 of those applications or have issued visas to virtually 900,000 of those one million applications.
Many of our visas that we issue are for students traveling to the United States, and this really coincides with President Obama’s 100,000 Strong Initiative. Each year we have about 150,000 Chinese students studying at American colleges and universities. But we only have about 13,000 to 14,000 Americans studying here in Chinese colleges and universities. That’s a number that we need to significantly increase. So President Obama has an initiative to increase to 100,000 the number of American students studying in China over the next four years.
At the same time we want to encourage even more Chinese to study in the United States. That’s why we celebrate this accomplishment of one million visa applications in this year alone. We’re intent on making the process of applying for and obtaining a visa to travel to the United States as efficient and as quick and as convenient as possible.
Right now virtually in all of our consulates and the Embassy here, people have to wait less than a week to get an appointment for an interview to obtain a visa. We also know that in the summertime the lines or the time it takes to get an appointment for an interview will grow. It’s our intent to minimize that time as much as possible. We’d love to have it such that you only have to wait a week or less throughout the year when applying for a visa.
When you receive an appointment for an interview to obtain a visa, we want to make sure that your wait times here and your experience at the consulate window or at the embassy window is as pleasant and as short as possible. So with the great staff and the leadership that we have here at our consulates and the Embassy and the managers, we’re looking at a variety of different ways to improve the process, to streamline the process, and to make the entire experience as convenient, as simple and as pleasant as possible.
But again, to ensure that the Chinese can get a visa, we encourage everyone to plan ahead, apply well in advance of the intended travel, and consult our web site for the most up-to-date and authoritative information on how you can prepare your visa application.
But to celebrate the one million applications that we have processed and, more importantly, the virtually 900,000 visas that we’ve given to the Chinese for business, for tourism or for study, we’ve invited some very special guests to join us today. We’d like to personally deliver to them their visas so that they can travel to the United States. And we wish them all a most enjoyable and productive experience and stay in the United States. Thank you very much.
Moderator: Now Ambassador Locke is going to personally hand the visas to some of these applicants, who represent the broad spectrum of Chinese travelers to the United States. We’re going to call them up one by one, by family, and then Ambassador Locke will conduct a Q&A.
Ambassador Locke: And why are you traveling to the United States?
Visa Recipient: To go to Los Angeles.
Ambassador Locke: How long do you plan to visit the United States?
Visa Recipient: About one month.
Ambassador Locke: Is this your first visit to the United States?
Visa Recipient: Yes, the first time to me.
Ambassador Locke: Why do you want to visit the United States?
Visa Recipient: Actually many Chinese want to travel to the U.S. to have a look, experience the U.S..
Ambassador Locke: When you go to the United States, if you go to Los Angeles, are you going to go visit Disneyland?
Visa Recipient: Yes, that’s one of our destinations because we are with kids.
Ambassador Locke: Our family has traveled to Disneyland many, many times and we very much enjoy it. You’ll have fun.
How about you, what are you looking forward to in visiting the United States?
Visa Recipient: I’ve never been to the U.S. before.
Ambassador Locke: What would you most looking forward to?
Visa Recipient: Just for fun and go out, to Disneyland of course. [Laughter].
Ambassador Locke: Enjoy the experience and good luck.
And you’re visiting the United States for what purpose?
Visa Recipient: For business.
Ambassador Locke: What type of business are you in?
Visa Recipient: I’m in the tourism industry.
Ambassador Locke: And what cities do you hope to visit?
Visa Recipient: Because our company’s office is in Washington, D.C., so we’re going to go to Washington D.C.. I’m going to lead a training there.
Ambassador Locke: How long will you be there?
Visa Recipient: About a week there.
Ambassador Locke: Have you been to the United States before?
Visa Recipient: Not yet.
Ambassador Locke: When are you planning on traveling?
Visa Recipient: Beginning of January.
Ambassador Locke: It’s going to be cold back there.
Visa Recipient: But that’s the training time.
Ambassador Locke: Any other places you hope to see while you’re there on business?
Visa Recipient: After D.C. and New York, I want to go to Florida.
Ambassador Locke: Why Florida?
Visa Recipient: I have to see Disney World. [Laughter].
Ambassador Locke: You’ll have a great time.
Visa Recipient: And it’s warm there.
Ambassador Locke: You’re right, it’s very warm there.
Visa Recipient: Thank you. Thank you for meeting you. It’s such an honor to see you.
Ambassador Locke: Good luck to you.
Visa Recipient: Thank you.
Ambassador Locke: Congratulations to you, and here’s your visa. I understand that you’ve actually been to the United States before. Why was that?
Visa Recipient: Actually I was there for exchange student. I studied there in high school. It’s a pretty good experience. High school in America is really different from high school in China. So I enjoyed it.
Ambassador Locke: You now have what type of a visa?
Visa Recipient: F1.
Ambassador Locke: That’s for what purpose?
Visa Recipient: I’m going to study at university.
Ambassador Locke: Which university?
Visa Recipient: BYU.
Ambassador Locke: Brigham Young?
Visa Recipient: Yeah. I’m going to be a freshman there. I got what I want.
Ambassador Locke: How was your experience applying for a visa?
Visa Recipient: It’s good. It just takes quite a long time to finish the thing.
Ambassador Locke: How long did it take for you to get an appointment for the interview?
Visa Recipient: Getting appointment is kind of easy. We just fill out a card and call the people there and you get appointment.
Ambassador Locke: So it was pretty fast getting an appointment here?
Visa Recipient: Yes.
Ambassador Locke: Very good. Good luck to you.
Visa Recipient: Thank you, sir.
Ambassador Locke: Congratulations. You’re going to the United States for what purpose?
Visa Recipient: I’m a student from Peking University and this winter I will have an exchange program in Columbia University. So I’m going to visit New York. And before visiting New York I will go to Boston for traveling.
Ambassador Locke: What will you be studying at Columbia University?
Visa Recipient: I am going to take a course about finance, consulting, or media, and I will choose which type of course.
Ambassador Locke: Is this a multi-year program or is this just for a few months? How long will you be at Columbia University?
Visa Recipient: I am going to be in Columbia University for one month. The course is just a short program. And I think if this experience will make me impressive, I may go to America for my further study up to my graduation.
Ambassador Locke: Very good. Now have you been to the United States before?
Visa Recipient: No, not yet, so I’m really looking forward to my first experience in America.
Ambassador Locke: Any other places you might want to visit while you’re in the United States pursing this one-month period at Columbia?
Visa Recipient: Actually I’m really looking forward to go to Stanford University. Because, as you know, Stanford is quite famous. I’m really very interested in many universities in America because I think this is where the talents come from and it’s why we’re going to America to see the talents and all the famous places.
Ambassador Locke: Good. And how was it applying for a visa as a student to go to Columbia University?
Visa Recipient: I think being a student [it] is quite easy to apply for a visa because, as you say, America also has some priorities for students because America wants more Chinese students to experience their culture and know about the history. So I think being a student is quite easy no matter from the beginning, the quota number to book your time and come here and apply for your visa, I think is quite [inaudible] experience.
Ambassador Locke: Very good. Good luck to you. Thank you.
Moderator: Now we’re going to have Ambassador Locke do a group photo with the applicants.
[Group photo taken.]
Moderator: Now we’re going to have a Q&A with our friends in the media.
Question: My question for Ambassador Locke is, first thing, if granted like 900,000 visas to Chinese applicants, and about 100,000 that were denied, what was the main reason for such denial?
The second question, you said there were many applicants applied for F1 students visa, so what are the other main types people applied for? Thank you.
Ambassador Locke: The three big categories for non-immigrant visas are for business, for tourism, and then of course for study. Those are the three big categories.
Question: Like a percentage?
Ambassador Locke: Chuck, do you know the percentages?
Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs, Charles Bennett: For student visas it’s about 16 percent, I think; and probably of the remainder, 85 percent would you say or 90, probably close to 90 percent of the remainder are what we call B1, B2 visas, for tourism or short term business.
Under U.S. law everybody who comes in for a non-immigrant visa, whether it’s a student visa, a tourist visa, or a short term business visa, they have to be able to demonstrate to the consular officer that they have strong enough ties to their home country, whether it’s China or Russia or Brazil or any country, that our consular officer will be confident that after a temporary visit to the U.S. that they’ll leave the U.S. and return to their country. If a person can’t demonstrate that they have those strong ties, whether they’re economic ties, work ties, family ties, then under our law we’re not allowed to issue them a visa. So usually the most common reason for a person not getting a visa is that they haven’t been able to establish themselves to their home country so we’re sure that when they travel to the U.S. they will travel, stay in the U.S. legally, and then return to their home country.
Question: I have some questions about the new measures you take to signify the procedure. You just now mentioned that you will do all your best to provide more convenience to Chinese applicants, so could you please elaborate on the new measures you will take or you have been taken recently? For example, I learn from other media reports saying that you add more windows for the applications and you are also planning to extend the visa valid period. Is that true?
Ambassador Locke: We’re looking at a variety of different proposals and we’re coordinating these in Washington, D.C.; we need approval for some of these things from Washington, D.C.. But, for instance, longer hours at many of our consulates and here at the embassy so that we can actually process more during the day. Number two, we’re adding more staff at some of our consulates and at the embassy. Expanding, number three, the workspace that we have so that we actually have larger facilities so we can actually have more windows to accommodate people. The fourth thing is that we’ve approached the Chinese government, formally indicated to the Chinese government here in Beijing that we would like to issue a five-year visa to the Chinese for business, for travel or for study. If we give a five-year visa people don’t have to come as often because right now the visas are for only one year. If we give you a five-year visa you don’t have to apply as many times over the next several years. But that requires the Chinese government to agree to give Americans a five-year visa, because right now they only give Americans a one-year visa. We have a requirement that each country must treat the citizens of the other country the same. So we’re ready to issue five-year visas to the Chinese if the Chinese government will also agree to give Americans a five-year visa.
Question: Are you adding more interview windows in Beijing?
Ambassador Locke: We’re not adding any more windows here, but we might be looking at other locations here in Beijing to process more, and we’re adding many more windows in Guangzhou and in Shanghai.
Question: It is reported that United States will send 50 visa officers to China who can speak Chinese, so when they will arrive here?
Ambassador Locke: Those extra staff will be arriving I believe in the spring of 2012.
Minister Counselor Bennett: We’ll start seeing additional officers starting in about March.
Question: My question is, since the trade growth between China and U.S. has been increasingly growing in recent years, so if we change the visa process as you mentioned just now, I want to know what influences, whether it’s good or not, will bring to the trade and economic ties between the two countries, and how long can we see that impacts?
Minister Counselor Bennett: That’s a good question. I think we will see a lot of influence in trade between our countries as we have more people going back and forth.
Every day we issue hundreds of visas to people from China who want to go to the U.S. to find markets to sell goods. And vice versa. Every day we see Americans coming here who are trying to get into the Chinese market to sell things.
I think trade, we tend to think of trade as selling things back and forth, but trade can also be Americans coming to China and Chinese going to America to enjoy tourism. When people come here they stay in hotels, they hire tour agencies, and likewise, when Chinese people go to the U.S. they stay in hotels, they rent cars, and so that’s also an important element of our trade relationship.
Question: How long can we see the impacts you mentioned? When can we see that?
Minister Counselor Bennett: I think we see the impact every day, to be honest with you. The more travel there is between our countries the more business we see. I don’t think it’s something we can say in a year we’re going to start seeing the impact; I think we can say right now we see the impact, and we’re just going to see more of that as the exchange of people between our countries increases.
Question: I am a little bit confused by the answer by the Ambassador and the interpretation now about the question about adding more windows. Just now I remember the Ambassador mentioned that you will also add more windows in Beijing but not in the embassy, right?
Minister Counselor Bennett: Right.
Question: Just a clarification, for the windows that you mentioned, [you] will open windows in other places but not in the Beijing embassy, is that right?
Minister Counselor Bennett: No. We’re looking to open additional space here in Beijing also. What you’re looking at right here and upstairs, there are some more windows where our American citizens go. We’re looking at reconfiguring how we do our work here. There are also more windows back in this direction, if you haven’t been back there. So that we can use more of these windows for actual interviews. Right now we use some of these windows for taking in applications, we have to do fingerprints and that sort of thing. So we’re looking to, at all of our posts, both here in Beijing and other places, to change how we bring people into the embassy, in the consulate, so we can have more windows for actual interviewing.
In Shanghai we’ve leased more space so we’re going to be adding a lot of space there. In Guangzhou in about 13 or 14 months we’re going to move to a completely new consulate building, a beautiful new consulate building where I think there are 63 interview windows. And in Chengdu they’re also going to about double the number of interview windows in the next year or so.
Question: How many [are you] adding here?
Minister Counselor Bennett: You really want to be specific, don’t you? [Laughter].
Immediately I think here we’ll probably add three or four windows for interviewing, but we also have a project to build a whole new building next door here. That will be even more, but that’s three or four years away still. They haven’t even started building that building next door.
But we’re looking short term and we’re looking long term. We know that this work will continue to grow in China, so we’re both looking for sort of immediate solutions and we’re also looking for longer term solutions.
Let me just add one thing to follow on your question. You can have as many windows as you want, but if you don’t have people to work in those windows then they’re not being used properly. An important part of this is getting new people, getting the additional staff that we need to actually fill the windows.
Question: How many interviewing officers do you have in China now?
Minister Counselor Bennett: Now? In China? In China right now we have about 98 or 99, and we’re expanding that to, already we know up to about 140 and probably up to about 150 in this year. In 2012.
Question: My question is, do you plan to use new technology such as new machines to shorten the visa application time?
Minister Counselor Bennett: New technology. Yeah. That’s a good question because I think at least part of the problem we have with processing so many people is that our use of available technology hasn’t kept up with the number of people that have applied for visas.
The technology that we use for actually processing the visa, the computers that we use inside here, are actually pretty modern and pretty efficient. But I think what we need to work on is getting better technology for making appointments, for paying fees, for getting passports back to applicants. I wish we could have all our applicants come in like this and have the Ambassador hand back their applications, but when there are 900,000 people, I don’t think the Ambassador has time to do that.
So what we’re looking to do is to try to find better ways to do those things. To make appointments, to pay fees and to hand the passports back to people.
What I would like to see for people in China, for anywhere, is a system very much like if you want to buy an airplane ticket. If you want to buy an airplane ticket to fly some place you go usually onto the internet, you buy the ticket, and then you get a map of the plane. First of all you decide when you want to fly. First where you want to fly, then when you want to fly, then you get a map of the airplane and you pick your seat. I think we can do something similar to that, where you decide you want to travel two months from now to the U.S.. You pay the fee to apply for your visa, and you get onto a web site and you have all the various options of when there are appointments available. You hit a date and then your appointment will be on that date.
And just like when you buy an airplane ticket, if you decide you want to change your seat, you can go back and hit another date. Maybe that date is not good for you. Maybe you want to apply on a different date. So that’s what I’m hoping, and that’s what I’m really working hard to achieve here in China.
Thank you all for coming today.
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