France, the world’s top tourism destination, will make it easier for Chinese tourists, businesspeople and students to travel, work and study in the country.
The agreement, which will offer more multiple-entry visas that are valid for five years, was revealed by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in Paris on June 30, though specific numbers were not available.
It followed the European Union’s announcement that it would set up visa centers in 15 Chinese cities that do not have embassies or consulates for EU nations.
France also will establish visa-processing agencies in China outside of its embassies or consulates, Premier Li Keqiang told reporters at a joint news conference with Valls. The announcement did not include specific numbers of visa centers or identify where they would be located.
Lialso vowed to roll out reciprocal measures to facilitate visits by French citizens to China.
Valls said he hoped to see more people-to-people exchanges between the countries, especially among younger generations.
France has reinforced its position as one of the top destinations for Chinese, the single biggest source of global tourism and the biggest-spending, after it launched a 48-hour visa processing system last year.
The number of Chinese tourists going to France surged to 2 million last year and is expected to reach 5 million a year by 2017, according to French figures.
Zhang Jinling, a French studies researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said France places a high value on the massive Chinese market amid its efforts to boost its tourism sector and shake off an economic downturn.
“The effect of the new policy will be obvious, as it will set a bigger platform for greater exchanges between peoples, consumption stimulation and more investment opportunities,” Zhang said.
Almost 85 million foreigners a year support a 150 billion euro ($166 billion) tourist industry that delivers 7 percent of the gross domestic product of the eurozone’s second-largest economy, government figures show.
Last month, French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius set a target of 100 million foreign tourists per year by 2020.
France has also highlighted the potential for increasing the number of Chinese students, the second-largest source of overseas students for the nation, and the amount of Chinese investment.
Both sides said on June 30 that they would launch an internship program and planned to quickly increase the number of Chinese students in France from 30,000 to 50,000.
Zhao Chen, a Chinese student who is majoring in public affairs at Sciences Po Paris, said he hopes more European countries will follow France’s footsteps in relaxing visa policies for Chinese citizens.
Opening up to travelers
China has so far signed visa exemption agreements for various passports with 99 countries and 59 visa simplification agreements or arrangements with 37 countries. In addition, 36 countries and regions have granted unilateral visa-on-arrival policies to Chinese citizens and another 11 countries and regions have unilaterally allowed Chinese citizens to visit without a visa.
China and the EU will complete negotiations on mutual exemption of visas for diplomat passport holders by 2015 and will discuss how to facilitate visa services for businesspeople, tourists and students.
United Kingdom, Belgium
A pilot scheme to streamline visa application processes for Chinese visitors to Britain, Belgium and the Schengen area was announced in June by the British and Belgian governments.
Chinese customers will be able to submit visa applications for both countries during a single visit to a UK visa application center.
South Korea said on July 1 that it will waive visa fees for Chinese visitors.
Japan in January announced a reduction in the minimum income requirement for people applying for three-year, multiple-entry visas and also extended the validity of visas from three to five years for high-income Chinese tourists.
Part of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement signed earlier this month is the annual provision of up to 5,000 visa places for young Chinese nationals between 18 and 30 years olds in Australia’ s Work and Holiday program.
Last year, China and the US announced reciprocal visa arrangements for business people, tourists and students. This year in the first five months, the number of Chinese business people and tourists to the US increased by 31 percent over the same period last year.