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Visa Agreement With China Draws Senate Cheers

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The deal announced Monday that makes it easier for Chinese business people, tourists and students to stay in the United States longer won applause from senators on both sides of the aisle, especially Majority Leader Harry Reid.  

The Nevada Democrat was among the first out of the gate Monday praising the agreement that will extend the duration of a variety of visas, highlighting the number of Chinese tourists who travel to his home state. "I have spent many years pushing for this change so that the United States could increase the duration of visas for visitors from China. Las Vegas annually welcomes hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists — more than five percent of all international visitors who travel to Las Vegas are Chinese and this number continues to grow each year. In addition, many in Nevada’s Chinese-American community will appreciate the greater flexibility they have when visiting their family and friends in China," Reid said. "This change builds upon my work to increase international tourism in Nevada and to continue to improve our local economy."  

Hawaii Democrat Mazie K. Hirono also praised the move, having led a letter early last year pushing the Treasury and State Departments for such changes.  

"The longer visas for Chinese travelers is a game-changer for Hawaii’s visitor industry and something I’ve pushed for a long time," Hirono said. "China is the fastest growing tourism market in the world. With this change, Hawaii can expect more new and repeat visitors from China. Chinese visitors are Hawaii’s highest spending visitor group, which means a stronger economy and more local jobs."  

Republican Sen. Mark S. Kirk, who spearheaded a separate letter calling for the changes with Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., ahead of Obama's trip to Asia, also expressed support for the move. The agreement works in both directions, meaning it will also be easier for Americans traveling to China. The two House members praised the news along with Kirk.  

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and National Economic Council Director Jeffrey Zients outlined the changes, which will simplify travel and educational exchanges between the United States and China, in an opinion piece published late Monday by CNN.  

"On Monday in Beijing, President Obama announced an agreement with China that builds on that progress by extending the validity of tourist and business visas to 10 years and student visas to five years — both for Chinese citizens traveling to the United States and for Americans traveling to China," Pritzker and Zients said. "Prior to this agreement, Chinese citizens had to renew their American business, tourist, and student visas annually and the same applied to American travelers visiting China."  

"When asked, Chinese travelers cite the ease of obtaining a visa as second only to cost among the factors determining where they take their next trip. We've been falling short in that area, while our competitors have been upping their game. The United Kingdom, Canada, and Japan have already eased visa restrictions for Chinese travelers, with the European Commission, France, Germany, and Italy also taking steps to extend visa validity to China too," wrote Pritzker and Zients. "Of the 10 largest economies, China's was the only one whose citizens were required to apply for U.S. visas annually."  

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