For Yale students and faculty frequently traveling to and from China, a newly negotiated visa agreement will soon save time, money and headache.
The arrangement, which was announced last week by the United States government, extends visas for students, tourists and short-term business travelers from one year to five. Those traveling between the two countries previously had to pay application fees, process detailed documents and then wait for visa approval on a yearly basis. The news comes as a welcome relief for several students and faculty at Yale, of both Chinese and American nationalities.
“This makes [Chinese students’] ability to travel much easier,” said Ann Kuhlman, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars. “[Visa renewal] is often costly and time consuming and occasionally a little unpredictable.”
For Chinese students interviewed, eased travel between their home country and New Haven could not have come sooner.
Zhemin Xuan GRD ’19, vice president of the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale, said the unpredictable manner in which visas are processed makes it difficult for students to travel back and forth without proper planning. Xuan said that during a family emergency 10 months ago, he was unable to return to China quickly because it took three weeks to receive approval to travel back to China.
Likewise, Jingwei Sun GRD ’18, also vice president of ACSSY, said that as someone studying immunobiology, she knows multiple people who have had to delay start dates for experiments and research because they could not get their visas approved.
“One of my friends applied for his visa … but it was so delayed that he missed all the programs prepared for the foreign students,” Sun said.
For Tian Xu, a professor of genetics at the Yale School of Medicine, traveling back to China multiple times per year always made visa renewals stressful. Xu added the new policy will open the door for more cultural exchange between Americans and the Chinese.
The SOM professor Steven Roach, a senior fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute of Global Affairs and the former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, said the new policy is a “fantastic breakthrough in the life of a frequent China traveler.”
“I’ve got a passport that would scare you, and I would say maybe one quarter of the pages are just from [having to get] multiple China visas,” Roach said.
However, Roach — who in January published a book on the codependency of America and China — added the visa extensions were not the grand statement towards improved relations that some suggest. Comparing the extensions to the climate change agreements negotiated by President Barack Obama this month, Roach said the news is a personal relief but does not make a great difference in the grand scheme of Sino-American relations.
Phil Wilkinson ’17, who spent a summer and semester in China on two Light Fellowship programs, said he ultimately had to apply for four separate visas because he traveled to Japan and Singapore over the course of his study abroad. Wilkinson said each visa cost over $100 and that the process of having to reapply so frequently was a significant stress on his trip.
Other students interviewed who partook in Light Fellowship programs in China over the past summer said they had no difficulty obtaining their visas, though they did not travel outside the country because of constraints imposed by the single-entry visa.
The Light Fellowship was awarded to 140 students in the 2013–14 academic year competitions.