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Petition for free visa appointment in China posted on White House website

By Shujian Bu  (People's Daily Online)

15:05, November 24, 2011

Screenshot of the petition on the White House website

Recently, a petition demanding the cancellation of the telephone appointment fee for U.S. visa application has aroused great attention. A total of 8,778 people have signed this petition posted on the White House website by Nov. 23.

On Sept. 1, the Obama Administration launched We the People on WhiteHouse.gov – a new platform that gives all Americans a way to create and sign petitions on a range of issues affecting the United States. According to the website, if a petition reaches a certain threshold (initially 5,000 signatures within 30 days), policy officials in the Administration will review it and issue an official response.

On Sept. 26, a petition started urging the U.S. Embassy and Consulates to switch to a free online system for visa appointment scheduling on the Chinese mainland. Since the petition has exceeded the 5,000 signatures threshold, it’s very likely there will be an official response. Even if not, the petitioners want a reasonable explanation as to why visa applicants in most other countries and regions can schedule their visa interviews online for free.

In China, visa applicants have to schedule an interview by telephone in advance through a third-party call center; this costs 70 cents per minute. Applicants have to purchase a 36-yuan card for an 8-minute call or a 54-yuan card for a 12-minute call. However, some applicants have complained about the long voice prompts that makes an 8-minute card insufficient. And if they use a 12-minute card, they cannot get the balance back in cash if any time is left on the card.

Ed Ramotowski, who is in charge of the visa office in the United States Department of State, said that his office adjudicated more than one million U.S. visas for Chinese applicants during the Fiscal Year 2011. If an applicant spends 40 yuan for the phone card on average, the one million Chinese applicants spent nearly 40 million yuan last year, excluding the cost of transportation to the specified bank that sells the cards. It’s a waste of resources, financially and physically.

When people in China apply for a visa, each has to pay at least 938 yuan, totaling more than 938 million. Scheduling an appointment should be part of the visa application process and there should be no additional costs. People have complained about this system for a long time. It doesn’t benefit the U.S. government while it may nourish corruption.

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