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China improves and simplifies visa application process for foreigners

In an effort to facilitate and encourage international travel, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) informed that it will improve the visa application process for foreigners interested in visiting the country. The main changes include less information required from the petitioners, among other things.

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Last September, the MFA announced the revision of the application process. New applicants will now need to provide only their travel history from the past year, instead of the previous five years. Also, the educational background section has been streamlined to only request the highest level of education achieved.

The changes follow the announcement in March 2023 that China would resume issuing all types of visas. Since August, travelers heading to China do not have to take a COVID-19 nucleic acid test or antigen test before flying (although a China Customs health declaration form is still required).

According to MFA spokesperson Mao Ning, the adjustments seek to reduce the time applicants spend on visa forms and enhance overall efficiency. The MFA reaffirmed its dedication to fostering people-to-people interactions between China and other countries, emphasizing China’s commitment to high-quality development and global engagement.

The improvements to the visa application form are mainly related to educational background, family members, and travel history.

The MFA said that these changes will also significantly reduce the “textual content” of the forms (i.e., decrease the amount of information people must wade through).

These improvements will also apply to M (business) visa application forms. In addition to an application form, M visa applicants also need to provide an invitation letter with details of their planned visit.

After lifting most anti-COVID restrictions, China decided in January to resume the issuance of the M visa for foreign business professionals traveling for commercial and trade activities, but no other types of visas. Later, in March, the government informed that it would issue once again all types of visas for foreigners, including tourism visa, port visa, and multiple visa-exemption.

On March 13 and 14, Chinese embassies published the Notice on Further Adjustment of Visa and Entry Policies for Foreigners to China, which clarifies important information regarding visa issuance for foreigners.

The document states that valid multi-year multiple entry visas issued before March 28, 2020, by the Chinese visa authorities abroad shall resume function. (This will impact foreigners whose 10-year business or tourist visas are still valid.)

The notice adds that foreigners may apply for all types of visas (including those for tourism and medical treatment) and port visas shall once again be issued in line with the relevant laws and regulations.

The visa-exemption policy for Hainan, visa-exemption cruise policy for Shanghai, visa-exemption policy for foreigners to visit Guangdong from Hong Kong and Macao, and visa-exemption policy for ASEAN tour groups to Guilin and Guangxi shall resume operation.

These adjustments to China’s visa issuance policy came into effect on March 15, 2023.

This latest move by Chinese authorities represents an effort to reopen China’s borders and reactivate its economy.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, in March of 2020, China imposed some of the strictest health and prevention policies in the world, including lockdowns and travel restrictions on international arrivals.

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As the pandemic situation changed globally, China loosened and tightened its anti-Covid policies. Among the many restrictions on international passenger flights, China limited visa availability (including a suspension of tourist visas) and imposed COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements before and after arrival in the country.

Last January, the Chinese government downgraded the pandemic to a Class B infection and eliminated the mandatory centralized quarantine for inbound travelers. Immediately after, the authorities resumed issuance of passports for Chinese mainland residents, ordinary visas and residence permits for foreigners, as well as tourist visa exemption for short-term travelers.

After that, China restarted visa applications for most types of visas. However, visas for tourism and medical treatment to China were still not accepted.

The international business community celebrated the announcement by the Chinese government on the reopening of the borders, after almost three years of restriction and a Zero-COVID policy.

China’s M or F visa used to confuse many foreign visitors. From 2013, the original F is divided into M and F. The former is for business and trade, while today’s China F visa applies to noncommercial science, tech, and cultural exchanges.

Individuals from the UK, India, Singapore, and Australia interested in applying for a M visa must first visit the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre (CVASC) website, fill in an online visa application form, including a recent photograph, and make an in-person appointment at a visa center, using the reservation form. All other nationals must visit their local consulate to request an appointment.

The application should be submitted at least one month prior to travel, but not earlier than three months.

Foreign professionals requesting an M visa must present a China Business Visa Invitation Letter issued by a Chinese business or trade partner; or issued by duly authorized Chinese institutes or relevant units; or by a trade fair.

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The invitation letter must include the applicant’s details; details of the planned visit (including purpose, dates, locations, etc.); details of the inviting party (including official stamp, signature of the legal representative or individual,) and Chinese ID if the inviting party is a Chinese individual.

After entering China, if the duration of stay cannot cover the trip, it’s possible to go to the local exit and entry administration to apply for a China business visa extension at least seven days before the original M visa expires.

F visa is issued to foreigners invited to China for a noncommercial exchange, investigation or visits for scientific and technological education, cultural exchanges, health, or sports activities. In some cases, foreigners with a need to travel frequently in and out of China over a longer period may be granted a 12-month multiple entry F visa.

It is recommended that international travelers planning on visiting China double check all visa requirements with their local Chinese consulate or embassy, at the city of origin.


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