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Call centre set to help with US visa information
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-02-19 00:48

Chinese who want to visit the United States temporarily will soon have easier access to visa information.

The US embassy in Beijing announced yesterday it will set up a China-wide Visa Information Call Centre.

The centre will provide visa-related information to applicants and schedule non-immigrant interview appointments at the embassy or four US consulate generals in the country.

Currently, non-immigrant visa appointments are made by calling a consulate or the embassy directly and free of charge.

But many applicants have complained that getting through to the embassy is always difficult and waiting periods for visa appointments can range from a few days to several weeks.

John Morris, the minister-counselor for Consular Affairs and also consul general of the US, promised that applicants can easily make an appointment as long as they call the centre.

The difference, however, is that callers are charged 54 yuan (US$7) for every 12 minutes of use.

"In recent years, both applications and approvals (of visas) to the US have been steadily decreasing," said Thurmond Borden, a top official with the embassy.

Still, more than half of all applicants get visas even though more than 90 per cent of overseas students don't leave the United States after completing their studies, he said.

However, some people still believe visitor visas to that country are hard won.

According to a report from China News Agency, many minor electronic companies in South China's Guangdong Province were not allowed to join an exhibition held in the United States at the beginning of this year, despite paying a large down payment to the organizers.

Apart from the difficulty in obtaining visas, some Chinese applicants also felt the 830 yuan (US$100) non-refundable application fee for each interview is too expensive.

"It's lot, and everybody including American people think so,'' said Wang Ying, 23, who is attending a US-based institute.

Many people said they have no idea how the money is used.

"It's not for visa itself," said Morris, adding that the fees are used for visa processing, various resources in the embassy and salary of staff.

At yesterday's seminar, Morris also said a supervisor officer will review every refused application.

One applicant, surnamed Sun, told China Daily that he travelled a long distance from Northwest China's Shaanxi Province to Beijing to take part in the interview.

But to his surprise he was only given several minutes to talk about his case and rejected.

Every visa officer's work will be reviewed by the embassy's supervisor officer, said Morris.

"They are asked to list as least three reasons to reject each case," he said."Such as the applicant's low income, absence of a stable residency or no previous travelling record."

But he also pointed out that even the supervisor can't overthrow the decisions of visa officers. They can, however, write to rejected applicants asking them to come back for another interview, although that rarely happens.

The embassy also promised to improve service. For example, a waiting room three times the size of the current one will be used at a new embassy currently under construction.

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