U.S.-China Deal Extends Business Visa Validity

By Roy Maurer Nov 14, 2014

U.S. and Chinese citizens who regularly travel back and forth for business between the two countries will benefit from longer visa validity periods beginning Nov. 12, 2014.

The U.S. State Department (DOS) issued a statement Nov. 10 that the United States and the People’s Republic of China will reciprocally increase the validity of short-term business and tourist visas and student and exchange visas issued to each other’s citizens.

The reciprocal visa extension is part of an executive effort to support job growth in the U.S. and strengthen ties with China by facilitating travel and improving trade and investment, according to the department. In fiscal year 2014, business, tourist, student and exchange visitor visas represented 97 percent of all nonimmigrant visa applications processed for Chinese citizens.

Benefits for U.S., Chinese Business Travelers, Students

Chinese applicants who qualify for a B-1 business visa may now be issued multiple-entry visas for up to 10 years, the longest visa validity possible under U.S. law. Prior to this, Chinese and American business travelers had to apply annually, as such visas were only valid for one year.

Qualified Chinese students, exchange visitors, trainees and their dependents who qualify for F, J or M-category visas are now eligible for multiple-entry visas valid for up to five years or the length of their program. Here too, visas were previously issued for a maximum duration of one year.

U.S. citizens eligible for Chinese short-term business visas should also receive multiple-entry visas valid for up to 10 years, while qualified U.S. students may receive student residency permits valid up to five years, depending on the length of their educational program.

“The changes will have huge benefits for travelers using any of the affected visas,” said Elaine Martin, a global corporate immigration attorney based in Dallas. “Up to now, each visa was usually issued for just a few weeks or months, and valid for just one entry. That meant, for example, that a U.S. national who visited China every three months for business had to apply at the Chinese consulate for a new visa for each trip. Chinese students who came to the U.S. to study could not leave the U.S., including to visit family,” she said.

Changes in visa validity will not affect visa eligibility criteria, and the basic visa processing fee of $160 will not change. The DOS said that the two countries will continue to discuss visa validity for other classes of visas.

“We expect that these changes in visa validity will be very popular among Chinese travelers. The U.S. Mission in China is taking steps to handle a potential increase in visa workload and intends to keep visa processing times as short as they have been over the past several years,” the DOS said.

Important Points

Visa validity is not the same as permitted duration of stay. “The current change in visa validity does not change the permitted duration of stay for any visa class. Remaining in the United States beyond your allowed duration of stay can result in a violation of U.S. immigration laws and may cause you to be ineligible for travel to the United States in the future,” the DOS said.

Also, this extension does not increase the validity of visas already issued. Existing visas will be valid only until the expiration date printed on the current visa. To obtain a visa with extended validity, holders of valid or recently expired visas will need to apply again.

Visa Reciprocity Not Enough

Let’s not get carried away with this announcement, reminds one immigration attorney. “While no doubt a tremendous improvement for U.S.-China economic relations, I must admit to my lingering skepticism of how great the economic boost could possibly be,” said Shannon N. Barnes, partner at Mehlman Barnes LLP, based in San Diego. “The truth is, without a change in existing immigration policy or even better, massive immigration reform, there is simply no incentive for Chinese companies to invest in the U.S.,” she said.

Visa reciprocity only amounts to extending the validity of a travel document, Barnes said, “think of it as a permission slip to physically enter the U.S.,” but doesn’t “in any way guarantee ease of adjudication for other employment-based visas that are critical to promoting foreign investment.”

With the recent enhanced scrutiny being applied to “B-1 in lieu of H” and L-1 intra-company transfer visa adjudications, why would a Chinese investor bother to invest in the first place, she asked.

“I know if it was my investment, I would not be persuaded by a longer visa stamp validity when the anticipated result once I sign my check is to be stripped of discretion over my own business enterprise,” said Barnes. “I don’t think it is too much to ask that foreign investors be given some flexibility, and be permitted to temporarily bring key employees to the U.S., following the initial investment, so as to ensure that the newly established business operation is built upon the business model and corporate culture of the investor’s already successful foreign organization.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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