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Germany sets high hurdles for Chinese tourists

In addition to the comparably long processing time of about four days and the waiting times for an appointment in order to even apply for a visa the bureaucratic hurdles for Chinese applicants are very high:

if an employee of a private company applies for a tourist visa in Germany they will initially have to get through a long list of documents which have to be provided. Next to the application form, passport and passport photos one has to submit:

  • Employment confirmation, business licence of company
  • Account statements from the last three months
  • Hotel booking
  • Travel itinerary for entire trip in Germany and Schengen area with information on dates and places of stay
  • Family register (Hukou)
  • Overseas health insurance policy

Simplification of visa issuance: a measure with great penetrating power

The competitiveness of a travel country is significantly dependent on one indicator: how easy it is to enter the country. This is determined by the visa policy. A simplification of visa issuance can result in an enormous leveraging effect.

In order to make it easier for Chinese guests to enter some European countries have started shortening the processing time for visa applications – with success. A real “race to the bottom” has started.

Since the beginning of the year France processes Chinese Schengen visa applications for tourists and business travellers within 48 hours. The issue has reached the highest political levels and was spun positively in the media. In the case of France one can speak of a charm offensive for Chinese tourists. The country has great expectations: Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was by no means joking when he said that with the rise of Chinese tourists visiting the country it would be possible in the near future to substantially reduce the French current account deficit. In fact since the introduction of shorter processing times the processed applications of French visa centres has dramatically risen by more than 50 percent.

Shortly after Italy and Spain followed suit with well publicised announcements of wanting to realise processing times of 36 and 48 hours respectively. It remains to be seen how far these announcements are followed by concrete action. However, for example Italy is in comparison to Germany recording higher increases of Chinese visa applications. The USA is also going to relax entry requirements for Chinese visitors  in the hope of being able to stimulate their domestic economy. During this year’s APEC summit American officials announced a longer validity for multiple short-term visas for tourists and business people from China. 

Germany has announced the simplification of the visa process but has undertaken little in respect to implementation

The political groundwork for the reciprocal easing and acceleration of the visa process between Germany and China has been set. The joint “framework for action”, which both German and Chinese cabinets adopted during this year’s government consultations in October in Berlin, also included visa simplification. Both sides announced that applications for short-term visas in future would be processed within 48 hours. Furthermore, according to the framework for action the conditions for business travellers were also to be improved. They were to be granted more multi-annual visas which were valid for longer periods and entitle to more entries. Also the periods for short-term visas were to be extended. Although frequent travellers and business people can look forward to initial easing of the rules nothing has yet been done for Chinese tourists. Despite the simplifications being made in August for applicants of Schengen visas tourists were once again ignored.

Unlike visitor and business travellers tourists still have to provide hotel and flight bookings with their visa application. So far the announced processing time of 48 hours for short-term visa has not been implemented. 

Of all things the simplification process is stalling for tourists. Security concerns that are expressed as an argument against easing visa requirements cannot be seen as appropriate in regards to Chinese tourists: neither do Chinese tourists stick out in respect to crime nor are there issues with them returning back home. 

In competition for wealthy tourists from China so far Germany is not exploiting its potential. Particularly with regard to the coming year next to simplifying the visa process one will also have to improve the service offer for applicants in China. From 2015 with the introduction of the biometric procedure in the scope of the Schengen-wide visa information system the applicants will be obliged to appear in person. Up to now Germany has five visa issuing centres throughout China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Shenyang). It would be desirable to have a German visa centre in every Chinese province. The Chinese government has even offered Germany as the first Schengen state active support in opening new visa centres. 

Header pic: Flickr, via alvaro

The  Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS)is a Stiftung Mercatorinitiative. Established in 2013, MERICS is a Berlin-based institute for contemporary and practical research into China.