China maintains strict visa requirements despite end of pandemic

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Business travel to China, previously banned due to the Covid-19 outbreak, has resumed, but China’s visa procedures remain strict, drawing complaints from South Korean companies seeking to expand overseas activities.

All South Koreans traveling to China must go to Chinese visa application service centers in Seoul, Busan and Gwangju, multiple industry sources said on Monday. The fingerprint registration requirement was introduced at the height of the outbreak on January 29, 2021, but has not yet been lifted despite China’s removal of its zero-Covid-19 policy in January.

The country has been issuing visas after fingerprinting tourists from around the world, including from South Korea, the United States and Europe.

Those who go to China to engage in business activities to apply for the M visa need to go to the visa center to collect fingerprints and submit materials.

Corporate chief executive officers (CEOs) have separate waiting rooms, but they still have to wait in line. Many people complain about the long wait even if they book in advance online.

“It used to take about a week to get a Chinese visa, but now it can take up to three weeks,” said an executive at a major South Korean company.

Visitors holding multiple-entry visas do not need to be fingerprinted again for five years after first registering. However, due to the long rest period during the epidemic, most business travelers have to collect fingerprints again.

For group tourists, the pre-pandemic visa process has been reintroduced since the end of June, but the requirements for personal and business visas remain the same.

Chinese tourism to South Korea has yet to resume due to visa hurdles. Among major travel agencies, travel to Japan has seen the largest recovery at 68%, followed by Europe (60%), the South Pacific (57%) and Southeast Asia (50%). Travel to China ranked last, with an 11% recovery rate.

There are a number of ways that travelers to China can simplify visa applications by exempting fingerprinting.

In February, the Chinese embassy in Seoul announced that it would ease the visa application process for holders of the virtual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Travel Card (ABTC) starting May 1.

However, the card must be held by May 1st. Given the complexity of the process, it will take a while to get new ABTCs after May 1st. Even if you are a physical card holder, you must hold a card valid from August 24 last year to be exempt from visas.

The biggest victims of the stringent visa process are South Korean entrepreneurs who are expanding their businesses in China.

In late March, SK Group Chairman Cui Tae-won went to China to attend the Boao Forum, a major international event in China.

“Although the list of business travelers has not been finalized, the China Visa Center has asked us to submit invitations to the forum to everyone,” said an SK Group official, who declined to be named.

Officials from Hyundai Motor Group who visited China in March for Kia Corp.’s EV5 launch event and the Shanghai Auto Show in April must also visit the visa center, regardless of their rank or position in the company.

Home appliance and semiconductor companies have also encountered inconveniences due to China’s strict visa requirements.

Meanwhile, increased workload at visa centers in China after China lifted short-term visa restrictions for South Koreans in March was another reason for the delay in visa issuance.

Authors: Seo Jin Woo, Moon Kwang Min, Shin Ik Soo, Choi Ji Eun

(ⓒ Pulse, Maeil Business News Korea and mk.co.kr, all rights reserved)

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