Wednesday, 31 December 2008
China rolls back the worst of its visa rule changes
Earlier this year, I reported on a variety of changes made by the government of China, in the runup to the Olympics in Beijing, in its rules for foreign visitors.
The most restrictive of those new rules, in its affect on independent tourists, has been rolled back: At least in San Francisco, ordinary tourist visas to China are once again generally being issued to U.S. citizens without the need to show tour vouchers or evidence of reservations for accommodations.
I learned of the change from a representative of the Consulate General of the PRC in San Francisco , when I asked why I -- a writer about independent travel -- had been invited to a China tourism promotion event when independent travellers without reservations weren't being issued visas to China. There has been no official announcement of the change, but neither was there any official announcement of the earlier imposition of the requirement for tours or prearranged accommodations.
The consular official stressed that despite the change in general practice, China's government -- like that of the USA -- reserves the right to ask any questions, require any documentation, and issue or not issue any visa, in its sole discretion and sovereignty, without having to disclose its criteria to the applicant or give any reason for its decision. He also pointed out that, unlike the USA, China refunds the visa fee if a visa application is denied. (A Chinese citizen whose application for a visa to the USA is denied forfeits the application fee of US$130, a non-trival amount even in the USA, much less in China.)
With hotels in China having fared badly during the Olympics, and doing even worse today (as are hotels elsewhere in the world), China is an even better bargain than ever. For travellers looking for comfort and amenities on a budget, it's a standout.
Of the other new rules imposed earlier this year, the most problematic for independent travellers is the refusal of the visa office in Hong Kong to accept applications for tourist visas from anyone except citizens or residents of Hong Kong. No tourist visas are available on arrival in China (except for limited entry to the Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative regions) or at the borders, and Hong Kong had been the only exception to the general rule that Chines embassies and consulates will issue visas only to citizens and residents of the countries in which they are located. As a result, the unavailability of visas for nonresidents in Hong Kong makes it impossible to decide to visit China (via Hong Kong) in mid-trip, after you have left your own country, or as part of an extended trip in which you will have been out of your home country too long, before reaching China, to get a visa to China before leaving home.
The Web site for the Chinese visa office in Hong Kong still states that no applications will be accepted except from citizens and residents of Hong Kong, and that all others must apply in their country of citizenship or residence. I suspect that visa offices are now being given slightly more local discretion, so it might be possible for a foreign tourist to get a visa application accepted in Hong Kong, especially if you go through a travel agency and book a tour or hotel stay in conjunction with paying them for visa services. If you try it, please let me know how it goes. But I wouldn't count on it: If you go to Hong Kong hoping to get a visa there to travel on into more of China, make sure you have a plan B.
It also seems like multiple-entry and long-stay visas are once again being issued as before, although as before with an unpredictable degree of scrutiny and documentary requirements.Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 31 December 2008, 21:08 ( 9:08 PM)