EU to make visa rules easier for Chinese visitors

Updated: 2014-04-02 08:41

By Pu Zhendong (China Daily)

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The European Union is proposing to simplify visa rules in an aim to stimulate the economy by wooing global tourists, especially from China, a top EU official has said.

Antonio Tajani, vice-president of the European Commission, said the EU's executive body is presenting proposals for an overhaul of the bloc's visa laws to eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, such as cumbersome rules and long wait times.

The proposals include a recast regulation on the current visa code and a regulation establishing a touring visa. The package is expected to be approved by the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament as early as next year.

"Europe is the top tourist destination in the world with a wealth of natural, cultural and artistic heritage, but many Chinese travelers are discouraged by the red tape and substantial difficulties in applying for a visa," said Tajani in a written interview with China Daily.

"The main obstacles in the existing system are long wait times to get an appointment with consular offices and to get the visa issued, and the complex series of supporting documents," Tajani said, adding that the problems are "a wake-up call for Europe".

A recent survey financed by the European Commission shows that more than 30 percent of Chinese respondents perceived the supporting documents required to obtain an EU visa as highly problematic. A third of the Chinese travelers surveyed also feel that the wait time for a visa is a problem to a high degree.

"In the proposals, we reduce the deadline from 15 to 10 days for visa application processing. We also wish to simplify the rules that state which supporting documents are needed, to make the process similar no matter which embassy or consulate a person uses to turn in their application," Tajani said.

The Commission also proposes to grant a multi-entry visa valid for several years to people who regularly travel to Europe, if they have had a visa issued to them twice in the previous 12 months. In addition, a touring visa has been proposed, with which the holder can stay in the Schengen area of Europe and travel in the continent for up to a year, with the possibility to extend it by another year.

"This will be an important new element to the visa code for tourists that wish to stay longer in Europe, but not set up residence in one country. The touring visa will also be welcome for many who travel to Europe for business, especially in the cultural sector," Tajani said.

Once implemented, the new rules will apply to all EU member states that adhere to the common Schengen visa policy as well as the four Schengen associated states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. However, countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Ireland, Cyprus, Romania and the United Kingdom do not take part in the visa policy.

Since 2011, more than 1 million Chinese have applied every year for a visa to go to Europe for vacation or business trips. The number of such visas issued in China more than doubled between 2009 and 2013. According to the China Tourism Academy, some 200 million Chinese nationals may travel abroad annually by 2020, up from 82 million in 2012.

"You have a growing desire to discover Europe, and we should heed that call. For Europe, this is also a matter of growth and employment," Tajani said.

Recent studies indicate that if European countries would speed up procedures, limit the number of documents required and provide frequent travelers with multiple-entry visas with long validity, the continent could have up to 46 million additional international arrivals by 2015.

This would bring a further 60 billion euro ($82.7 billion) to Europe's economies and create 500,000 jobs.

Tajani said events such as the Milan World Expo in 2015 and the UEFA European Football Championship in 2016 in France are opportunities for millions of new travelers to visit Europe, "but only if they can obtain a visa without unnecessary hassle".

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