China has begun to restrict visas for foreign visitors. The Washington Post presents several perspectives on why this is happening, including Olympic security concerns and a growing sense of nationalism among Chinese.
On paper, the visa rules for China have always been strict. But in recent years, foreigners could turn to a thriving gray market for their immigration documents. For a small fee, agencies would gather all the paperwork required for coveted visas allowing visitors to remain in the country for as long as a year.
That abruptly ended in April.
China all but stopped issuing multi-entry visas and began requiring tourists to submit documentation such as hotel reservations, plane tickets and other information. Police officials also began randomly stopping foreigners in the street and questioning them about their status in the country. Immigration officials increasingly made unannounced visits to companies to check the paperwork of foreign employees.
Mr. Diehl cautioned Olympics-bound travelers that “going directly to the Chinese Embassy or consulates to obtain visas has proven frustrating for many individuals and groups who have been turned away due to the lack of proper support documentation often resulting in multiple return trips. Sending your application by mail is even riskier. Until recently, a Chinese visa was valid for one year and permitted multiple entries. Now, people need official invitations, flight and hotel confirmation, and in some cases bank statements and other documents to apply for a visa.”
In addition to frustrated potential visitors to China, the economy is also experiencing difficulties due to the new visa restrictions. The Wall Street Journal reports on the vacant hotels in Beijing, built for Olympic visitors and other tourists who are now hampered from entering China.
The worries about a possible glut have grown in recent weeks. Many of Beijing’s newest hotel rooms are sitting empty following the government’s tightening of visa restrictions as part of public-safety measures tied to the Olympics. Even during the Games, occupancy rates may not be as high as originally predicted. The tourism bureau says that more than three-quarters of Beijing’s five-star hotels are booked for the Olympics, but at four stars, less than half the rooms are reserved.