By Yu Ran (December 22, 2011 15:35)
SHANGHAI – The US Consulate General in Shanghai is adding to its facilities to meet the rapidly increasing stream of US visa applications it processes.
“We recently signed a lease to expand our consular facility by increasing the number of interview windows from nine to 20. Then we can interview more applicants on a daily basis,” said Robert Griffiths, US consul-general in Shanghai.
By Wednesday, US consular officers in China – the embassy in Beijing and consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenyang, and Chengdu – had processed more than 1 million non-immigrant visa applications this year, 30 percent of them in Shanghai.
The Shanghai consulate is one of the busiest in the China, receiving applicants mainly from the city and neighboring provinces, including Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui.
Since February 2004, when it opened at its current Westgate Mall location, it has issued more than 1 million non-immigrant visas – its current approval rate stands at 90 percent.
“The consular section in Shanghai is so crowded, with at least 100 people standing in the line and sitting on the benches, waiting to be called to submit documents or be interviewed,” said Ke Xixi, a resident of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province who got a visitor visa to the US in November.
Ke had to wait nearly three hours to hand in her documents and be approved.
“The process itself is actually rather quick, but I think there aren’t enough consular officers on hand to shorten the waiting time or enough space to handle the crowd of applicants,” Ke said.
To accommodate the increasing number of visa applications throughout China, 50 more staff positions will be added to the consulates starting in spring, according to the Shanghai consulate.
“The expansion of the Shanghai office will at least double the current ability to handle visa applications, and more staff will be recruited to facilitate growth, especially during peak seasons, like summer,” said Wylita Bell, information officer and spokeswoman for the US Consulate General in Shanghai.
Bell said they hired temporary staff members from Washington last summer to streamline the application process and they probably will again next summer.
The consulate suggests applicants should apply for an appointment for a visa at least a month in advance, and about three months if they want to travel between April and June.
“We encourage applicants to plan ahead, apply well in advance of intended travel, and for those applicants renewing a current or recently expired US non-immigrant visa, they should use the drop-box, which is a convenient way to submit a visa application through the mail and often does not require an interview,” Griffiths said.
More than 1 million US visas for Chinese applicants have been processed this year, 34 percent more than the previous year.