Ambassador Locke's remarks at GSS Launch
Gary F. Locke
United States Ambassador to China
February 20, 2013
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Good morning everyone, and let me wish everyone a Happy New Year of the Snake. We’re also joined by Charles Bennett, Minister-Counselor for Consular Affairs in China, and Amber Baskette, Consul-General in Beijing
We’re very pleased today to announce the launch of our new application system that will, number one, streamline the way visa applicants experience the visa process. Number two, provide better customer service. And number three, cost the Chinese visa applicants much less.
The State Department and the Embassy in Beijing have been working hard over the last year to bring the system to China so that Chinese applicants will have an easier and cheaper way to apply for visas to go to the United States. This new system will go live or commence at all of our visa posts in China on March 16. That’s three weeks from now.
This is great news for the United States and China because anything that helps streamline the exchange between our two countries is good for our peoples, our bilateral relationship, our economies, and most importantly, our cultural understanding.
We welcome Chinese travelers with open arms and offer some of the best tourist destinations as well as universities in the world, and we know that visitors to America will find our national parks to be of unparalleled beauty, our cities to be full of great entertainment, and our shops and restaurants to provide high quality, affordable customer experiences. So whether you plan to visit the United States as a tourist, as a business person, or as a student, you will feel most welcome.
One of the great things about the new visa application system is that Chinese applicants will find it much easier to schedule a visa interview, complete the visa processing, and check on the actual status of your visa.
Another great thing is that visa applicants will no longer have to pay added costs for scheduling or changing appointments and getting their passports back. Beginning March 16 visa applicants will only pay the standard processing fee of $160 US dollars for most non-immigrant visa categories. There will also be three payment options. They can pay on the internet with a Chinese debit card*. Number two, they can pay at any Citic Bank ATM. Number three, they can pay in cash at any Citic Bank branch.
We’ve listened to the suggestions of the Chinese applicants and we will now offer internet-based services. Applicants can make a visa interview appointment on-line, and they can check on-line to see when their visa is ready for pickup.
Visa applicants can still use our call center to make an appointment and to have all of their questions answered, but starting March 16th there’s no fee for using the call center. And the new system allows applicants to pick up their passports at any one of the 900 Citic Bank branches all across China. So it doesn’t get much more convenient than that.
This new visa processing system is just one part of our overall effort to continually improve service to the Chinese traveling public.
We’ve also dramatically increased our visa processing capacity to handle the increased demand, because in 2012 our mission throughout all of China processed more than 1.36 million non-immigrant visa applications. That’s an increase of 26 percent more than the year before, and almost an 80 percent increase over the last two years.
At the same time we’ve reduced appointment wait times down to an average of just five days during the past one year. Let me just thank Chuck and Amber and our entire consular staff throughout China for their leadership and their great work.
As we launch this new level of visa service in China I want to take a moment to highlight that although visas are government tools to ensure safe and orderly international travel, what makes it all worthwhile is the deep and meaningful relationship between our two great peoples. That’s why effective, efficient and convenient visa processing is so important. It brings Americans and Chinese closer together and it builds bridges of understanding between us.
So we really believe that the Chinese applicant community will really find these changes much to their liking. It all starts March 16th.
Currently credit cards cannot be used to pay the application fee, but we hope to include this feature in the future.”