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President Barack Obama's initiative to boost international tourism has pushed the US government to process a record 1 million visa applications from China so far during fiscal 2012.
"This extraordinary accomplishment represents visa processing growth of almost 43 percent over the same period last fiscal year, when we had processed just over 675,000 visa applications in China," the State Department announced Thursday.
The US federal government's fiscal year begins Oct 1 and ends Sept 30, so the department was referring to visa-processing totals through the end of the third quarter on June 30. As China Daily reported in April, through the first half of fiscal 2012, the State Department had processed 453,000 visa applications from Chinese citizens, up 46 percent from the first six months of fiscal 2011.
To reach the 1 million figure through the current fiscal year's first nine months, department staff at the US Embassy in Beijing and the four consulates across China processed at least 547,000 visa applications from Chinese citizens in the three months from April 1 through June 30 - reflecting especially high demand for the busy summer travel season.
The State Department credited the opening of more windows for interviews, expansion of consular office space and better-maintained waiting areas for visa processing at the Beijing embassy and its consulates in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang. Furthermore, it said the average waiting time for a visa interview has been reduced to about a week from the several months it used to take to get an appointment.
Dong Xue, a senior at Purdue University in Indiana, has just returned from China and it took her only a week to get a visa, even at the peak of summer. As a repeat traveler to the US, Dong was able to use a bank drop-off service to renew her visa. Without having to go for a personal interview, she submitted her paperwork through the bank and got her visa in five business days.
"As the Chengdu consulate (nearest to her hometown of Chongqing) was very busy then, their colleagues in Guangzhou processed my application," Dong told China Daily. "It's so fast. Usually it will take two weeks."
The Obama administration, pointing out the value of travel and tourism to the US economy, introduced in January a strategy to make the United States the top destination for foreign visitors. More than 1 million jobs could be created over the next decade if the US increases its share of the international travel market, Obama has said.
In 2011, about 1.18 million Chinese visited the United States and the number is expected to reach 2 million in 2015, according to the National Tourism Administration of China.