Ouch! Another visa war

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As a foreign journalist, it’s hard enough to travel to China. Every time I go, even if it’s just to go sightseeing in Xi’an or shopping across the border in Shenzhen, I must first check in with the foreign ministry in Hong Kong. And I stand no chance of getting a coveted multiple-entry sticker, nor can I enjoy the full 30 days most American tourists are entitled to–I must get my fill of China in seven days.

Alas, the situation just got worse. On August 1, all Chinese visa fees–for American travelers only–were equalized so that single, double and multiple-entry visas now cost a flat $100 USD (this is up from $50, $75 and $100, respectively). Not much more is said about the change, announced earlier this summer, on the Chinese embassy web site (quite possibly the slowest site in the world) or the San Francisco consulate web site.

The embassy site does say the fees were adjusted on a “reciprocal basis”–travelers to the U.S. from non-visa-waiver countries have had to pay $100 for a visa since the U.S. raised fees in 2002 (China raised its fees a few months later in response). So why another fee hike now? To start off, in May, the Senate voted to triple fees for U.S. employers wishing to bring in an employee under an H-1B visa–the visa issued to skilled workers from abroad. In June, despite pressure from IT companies hoping to attract talent to the U.S., the Senate rejected a proposal to increase the H-1B cap (which was set at 65,000 in 2004) to 115,000. Finally, just last month, the Department of Homeland Security increased immigration and naturalization fees by an average of 66 percent.

Since Asians make up the fastest-growing immigrant group in the U.S., and Americans make up the fourth-largest group of tourists in greater China every year, these changes have a varying effect on both sides of the Pacific. For now, I guess I’ll have to start saving up for my next trip to the visa office.

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