BEIJING, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- The United States will launch a new application policy for non-immigrant visa applicants from China, promising better customer service and lower costs, the Embassy of the United States in Beijing announced on Wednesday.
The new policy, which will go into effect on March 16, offers greater convenience for applicants scheduling visa interviews, completing visa processing procedures and checking their visa status, U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke said.
Visa applicants will only have to pay a standard processing fee of about 160 U.S. dollars for most non-immigrant visa categories, Locke said.
Unlike the current policy, no additional fees will be charged for scheduling or changing visa interview appointments or returning applicants' passports, he said.
Using the embassy's hotline to make appointments or ask questions relevant to the application process will also be free in three weeks.
Applicants currently have to pay the visa processing fee in cash at China Citic Bank branches. The new policy offers the additional options of paying online with a Chinese debit card or a foreign credit card or paying at any China Citic Bank ATM.
Internet-based services will also be supported by the new policy. Applicants can conduct visa interviews online and check for their day to be served or to pick up their passports.
Once the new policy is in effect, passports can be collected at any of the 900 China Citic Bank branches across China. Currently, applicants can only collect their passports from the embassy or have them returned by mail.
In the past year, the waiting time for an appointment had been reduced to an average of five days. The embassy has vowed to continue to improve efficiency in this regard.
"The visas are government tools to ensure safe and orderly international travel. And what makes our work worthwhile is the deep and meaningful relationship between our two great peoples," Locke said. "It brings American and Chinese culture together and builds bridges of understanding between us."
The new visa application system is just one part of the overall efforts to continually improve the U.S. Embassy's services for Chinese tourists, Locke said.
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce, more than 650,000 Chinese tourists visited the U.S. in the first half of 2012, marking a year-on-year increase of 46 percent.
In 2012, the U.S. Embassy in China processed more than 1.34 million non-immigrant visa applications, a 26-percent increase year on year and an almost 80-percent increase from 2011, Locke said.
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