WASHINGTON / BEIJING - The United States is expected to simplify and quicken the process of visa applications for Chinese travelers, US President Barack Obama announced on Thursday as part of an initiative to boost tourism.
"Every year, tens of millions of tourists from all over the world come and visit America. And the more folks who visit America, the more Americans we get back to work," Obama said in the White House news release.
Emerging markets such as China, Brazil and India are specifically mentioned in his plan as tourists from the three countries contributed about $15 billion and thousands of jobs to the US economy in 2010.
The number of travelers from China is projected to grow by 135 percent by 2016 compared to 2010. Chinese tourists on average spend more than $6,000 per trip, according to the US Department of Commerce.
Under the initiative, the non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China will increase 40 percent this year and 80 percent of non-immigrant visa applicants will be interviewed within three weeks of receiving the application.
Charles Bennett, minister counselor for consular affairs of the US embassy in Beijing, told China Daily earlier that 50 more American staff members will be deployed to the embassy and US consulates in China this year.
In addition, more interview windows and buildings will be built and the embassy is considering allowing people to arrange an interview date as early as two days after he applied, he said.
He said that nearly 90 percent of the Chinese applicants will be issued a visa in 2012, a figure that has seen steady growth in the past decade.
Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger told CNBC on Thursday he supports the effort to streamline applications for tourist visas.
People from Brazil, India and China in particular "have the wherewithal to travel to the US and have a growing desire to do so", Iger said. "So if you can make it easier to come, it's a big deal."
"Obviously the international tourist is very valuable to us, because they tend to stay longer and spend more money," Iger said.
Many US travel associations believe that the US has some catching up to do in improving its visa policy and travel services for Chinese travelers.
The State Department has quickened the process of non-immigrant visas in China in recent years, handling more than 1 million visa applications in 2011, an increase of 34 percent from the previous year.
Sylvia Dai, an employee at a Beijing-based Japanese auto company, said it was too difficult and took too long to get a US visa even though she was invited and guaranteed by her company's US branch.
"I went on business to the US twice, in 2006 and 2010. But I had to wait in line for a long time, about five hours," Dai said.
Jin Canrong, deputy dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said the US initiative is a "smart" one as it creates a new engine for the US to recover from its economic difficulties.
"The growth potential of emerging markets such as China and Brazil is huge, so focusing on attracting tourists from China and Brazil is just an easy choice to make," he said.