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Longer visas for Chinese could spur U.S. tourism

Associated Press

New York – — A rule change allowing Chinese visitors to return to the U.S. multiple times over a 10-year period is being hailed as a boon to American tourism, with the federal government predicting the economic impact could be $85 billion by 2021.

Chinese visitors are already familiar faces in major U.S. destinations such as New York City, San Francisco and Las Vegas, but other parts of the country could also see some a boost.

“One simple decision like this … is going to reap tremendous benefits to the country,” said Chris Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA, the public-private partnership responsible for marketing the United States as a travel destination.

The U.S. and China jointly announced the change last week at a conference of world leaders in Beijing, and it has already gone into effect. Business and short-term visas that currently expire after one year will now be valid for 10 years, while student and cultural exchange visas will last for five.

Obtaining a U.S. visa involves waiting in long lines at a consulate during the work day, passing an interview and then waiting at least three days, a process that won’t change under the new rules.

“That is going to allow many folk the encouragement to go ahead and apply for the visa no matter how hard it is. … It’s worth the effort,” said Harry Chen, operator of San Francisco-based Joy Holiday, which books tours for Chinese tourists.

Ling Cong, manager of the American department at Beijing-based tourism company China Travel Service, said the longer visas would allow Chinese visitors to launch spur-of-the-moment trips.

Chinese have been among the fastest-growing and highest-spending U.S. visitors in recent years. In 2013, there were about 1.8 million Chinese visitors to the U.S., contributing about $21 billion to the economy.

According to government figures, Chinese visitors spend about $7,000 per person in the U.S., compared with the average of $4,500 for all overseas visitors. The White House said it could result in $85 billion economic impact in the U.S. by 2021.

In New York City, Chinese visitors have increased more than 300 percent over the past five years, with 646,000 in 2013 and 743,000 expected by the end of this year.