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April 7, 2012

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Home » Metro » Public Services

Agencies charging for needless visa 'rush' service

Some visa agencies are charging people 1,000 yuan (US$158)and more to get them "urgent interviews" for their visa applications, a useless service because the normal wait is less than a week anyway.

Foreign consulates said they have no connection to such agencies, and people have no need to buy the services. For example, a company named Sigma Visa Center, which helps people apply for visas to the United States, said if people pay them a 1,000 yuan "urgent fee" in addition to the common service fee of 1,500 yuan, they can arrange a personal interview within a week. The company said it can handle all types of visas, including those for tourists and students.

"If we fail to get a quick interview, we'll give back the urgent fee," said a customer service officer with the company, who wouldn't give her name.

Similar agencies also claimed that they can arrange interviews faster as long as people pay, and the visa service covers several countries such as Germany and France. The websites said the "urgent fee" is adjusted according to the season. In some peak travel seasons, such as before the May Day holiday or National Day holiday, fees will rise to near 2,000 yuan.

Yesterday, the US Consulate General in Shanghai said applicants normally wait no more than six days for an interview.

"We have shortened the waiting time for appointments," said Wylita Bell, a consulate official. "So I'm curious why people would pay for such services."

The consulate also said it had no connection with such visa service companies.

To promote tourism, education and business cooperation in the Chinese market, several countries, including the US and New Zealand, have simplified the visa-application procedure and shortened the wait time.

Bell said the US consulate will work harder to get the message out that people don't have to wait for long for an appointment.

"We have done much work to promote the improved visa policy, but maybe it's not enough," she said.

Last month, new visa policies made it easier for Chinese people to enter the United States. Consular officers will be able to skip interviews for qualified non-immigrant applicants who are renewing visas within 48 months of their expiration if they are of the same type.

The US is also expanding its office space and assigning 50 new consular officers to China to help service rising demand.


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