In an effort to soothe international tensions and strengthen U.S.-China economic relations, President Barack Obama announced a new reciprocity agreement between the two countries Monday. As part of the deal, the United States will extend the validity of Chinese student visas up to five years and business and tourist visas up to 10 years, rather than the one-year visas which were previously available.
Richard Tanson, a senior advisor in the University's International Studies Office, said the deal will mitigate Chinese students’ concerns about leaving the country while still enrolled at the University. In the past, Chinese students have been prevented from traveling to third countries, studying abroad or even going back home because of the original one-year deal, Tanson said.
“I think [the agreement] is incredible,” Tanson said. “The one-year limitation, traditionally for Chinese students on the student visa status, has been a major source of frustration. It has a lot of negative ramifications historically. It has made students think twice — or three times, quite frankly — about traveling home because of the ardor involved in securing consequent visas.
Tanson said the original visa system also affected work opportunities due to its negative impact on post-degree work authorization.
Previously, the United States granted visas on an annual basis. The State Department processed more than 1.95 million non-immigrant visa applications for Chinese nationals in 2014.
Second-year College student Ying Jin said the old system would have grown tedious throughout her college career.
“Before the change, every year you had to go back," Jin said. "It would take a long time and it was a lot of hard work for the embassy.”
Chinese students make up approximately 40 percent of the University’s undergraduate international students — the largest group of foreign students. Jin said the new policy will allow students to visit their home country during school and work holidays more conveniently, and it gives them a better chance to explore opportunities in the United States .
“It’s definitely good for us because we don’t need to go back home and there’s more time to spend here for ourselves doing the things that we like,” Jin said.
Fourth-year College student Grong Wang said the new system will reduce his personal costs substantially.
“I can afford more time for my personal interests outside of China,” Wang said. “It will be much less of a financial burden because its more than $300 a year to pay the government, which I have had to do for the past 6 years. The 5-year visa reduces so much cost and friction that is unnecessary.”
Tanson said students previously would stay in the United States for years beyond the expiration of their visa because they feared not getting the proper paperwork in order.
“In the past, if [Chinese students] left the United States and upon return their visa would have been expired, then they would have had to apply for a new visa which can only be obtained outside the United States prior to their re-entry,” Tanson said. “[T]here is just so much uncertainty and so much hassle involved in having to secure their visa.”
Tanson said it has been difficult for the International Studies Office to guide Chinese students through the visa process, and they are the only office empowered to work with student-visa issues. The new U.S-China visa agreement is more in line with those of developed countries, he said.
Since this is a reciprocity agreement, U.S. students and travelers in China can obtain the same visa lengths as Chinese students in America now have.
“This is not just a benefit for Chinese students, but that is its greatest impact, at least as we see it from this office,” Tanson said. “It also is going to make it a lot easier for Americans to travel, to study, to work in China as well. So I think both countries are going to benefit from this new arrangement.”
According to the U.S. Department of State, the agreement will increase investment and trade while strengthening the bond between Chinese and American people.
“The arrangement underscores the U.S. commitment to promote bilateral tourism and trade and increase opportunities for people-to-people engagement,” the State Department said in a statement.
Wang said the agreement will make it easier to retain brighter students in the United States.
“This is going on a good direction,” Wang said. “One thing this country has done poorly before is push away so many young individuals by making it hard to work.”
The White House touted the economic benefits of the deal in a press release.
“In 2013, 1.8 million Chinese travelers visited the United States, contributing $21.1 billion to the U.S. economy and supporting more than 109,000 U.S. jobs,” the press release said. “As incomes in China continue to rise, the number of Chinese citizens able to afford international travel and tourism is projected to more than double over the next few years, reaching the hundreds of millions.”
The United States began issuing visas Wednesday in accordance with the new agreement.