Visa policy not designed to deter visitors Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The recent changes to China's visa policy is aimed at ensuring a safe environment for the Olympics and not to limit foreign visitors, a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

The application procedure for Chinese visas was changed in late April. Under the new arrangements, applicants for business and tourist visas are required to provide invitation letters, round-trip airline tickets and proof of hotel bookings.

"The purpose is to guarantee the Beijing Olympics is held safely," Wei Wei, director-general of the ministry's consular department, said on Monday.

Security of the Olympics is a "top priority", Wei said. "To keep dangerous forces outside the country and ensure a safe environment for athletes and visitors is the responsibility of the Chinese government."

An application for a Chinese visa still remains comparatively easy even after the policy change, Wei said.

"Although there are changes in the visa procedure, the new policy is not as strict as might be imagined. Those who apply to come to China for justifiable reasons will be given every convenience," he said.

Wei said the policy is in line with international practice. He was responding to some foreign media reports that "China is overacting on the issue".

"Any country would do the same. In fact, Western countries have much stricter visa policies than China," he said.

Wei said the Foreign Ministry had done extensive research on the visa policies of countries that had previously staged the Olympic Games or major sporting events, such as the 2000 Sydney Games and the 2006 Turin Winter Games.

"We found that most host countries had adopted stricter visa policies," Wei said.

The Australian government tightened its visa policies in 2000 during the Sydney Games. It was reported that two International Olympic Committee officials were even denied entry for security reasons.

Similarly, the Greek government reduced the number of visas for foreign workers during the 2004 Athens Olympics. Chinese tourists to Athens were also required to provide a number of documents including proof of personal property and bank statements showing no less than 50,000 yuan.

Wei also denied reports that the visa policy had led to low hotel occupancy rates. He said hotel occupancy is affected by many factors such as room prices and market fluctuations.

The Foreign Ministry in recent weeks has repeatedly explained its visa policy in response to foreign media reports.

"We do not require fingerprinting for foreign visitors" Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in May.

Statistics show China issued 8.13 million visas to foreigners last year. 

Editor: An Lu
Source: China Daily