On March 4th, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that starting in November 2016, Chinese travelers holding an effective 10-year B1 or B2 visa must go online and “pre-register” before traveling to the US by updating their personal information on the Electronic Visa Update System (abbr. eVUS).
While we expect that eVUS will have a positive impact on tourists’ US Customs and Border Patrol experience, the feedback in China to eVUS is widely negative. Gut-reaction articles surfaced hours after the announcement with titles like “China-U.S. 10-Year Visa To Be Nullified” and “10-year U.S. Visa Becomes Chicken Ribs” (colloquially ‘garbage’) across Chinese social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo. Misinformed criticism has quickly become popular opinion-- that after less than two years of validity, the 10-year travel visa is an American scam, and is disappearing this fall with Obama.
In a scramble to defend the validity of the 10-year visa and eVUS, the Embassy for the People’s Republic of China in D.C. and the Foreign Affairs Consulate of China’s Foreign Ministry publicly announced that “The 10-year China-U.S. visa is still valid!”
To address the concerns of Chinese nationals in the U.S. holding a B1/B2 visa, The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued the following statement: “This action on part of the U.S. by no means requests foreigners to re-apply for this visa, and furthermore it will not affect one’s visa’s effective date. Persons holding similar visas need not visit foreign American embassies to reapply. This long-term visa that China and the U.S. have mutually produced has not been rendered ineffective and will continue to be valid.
The representative from the Chinese Foreign Ministry emphasized, “From what I know, persons from countries participating in the U.S. Visa Waiver program, prior to travel to the U.S., must also fill out a similar form online in order to be admitted entry to the U.S.”
In reality, 38 countries, including England and France, already have mandatory pre-registration systems similar to the eVUS. So what had hundreds of thousands of people in China concerned about eVUS?
As an American, if you want a visa to travel to China (or another country), you are likely to go to the appropriate consulate and apply for one. In China, this process is typically handled by a travel agent; the prospect of having to personally go online and update your information is understandably unsettling for a typical Chinese traveler, who may have doubts such as: whether or not the website is Chinese language accessible, whether or not he can fill out the form properly, what happens if eVUS is not updated before travel, if his input will be consistent with what the travel agent used in the visitor’s original visa application, and whether his family members will be able to handle this same process. The underlying sentiments in these questions are: “if I was already approved for a visa, why do I have to enter this information again?” and “if I get one thing wrong, I’m going to lose my visa?”
The reality is, the purpose of eVUS is not to interrogate an individual or take away their visa, it’s to minimize difficulties and confusion when entering the country. It is standard practice for Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”) to ask a visitor why they’ve come to the US, how long they plan to stay, and generally determine if the visitor is a threat to the U.S., but not all visitors speak enough English to communicate effectively with the CBP officer. Registration on eVUS will allow a CBP officer to view an updated biographical summary of the visitor on demand, without having to struggle through language barriers. Users can input family, friend, or colleague information in eVUS, but the traveler is responsible for the veracity and accuracy of content.
Despite the initial bad rap it received, eVUS should reduce anxiety and customs queue times for foreign students, businessmen, and tourists traveling to the US, and allay fears that parents or relatives will be denied entry at customs because of language barriers or misunderstandings. Our conclusion: eVUS will have a significant positive impact on non-immigrant travel to the US by decreasing the percentage of denials at ports of entry.
For more information on eVUS, see the official CBP FAQ here.