President Obama began his week-long trip abroad this Monday in Beijing, where he was attending the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. While at the conference, President Obama unveiled a new visa agreement with the Chinese government. The new agreement extends tourist and business visas from one year to ten years, the longest allowed under US law. Student visas are also extended from one year to five years. The visa reforms went into effect Wednesday, November 14th.

Difficulties in the visa process between the United States and China have long been cited as a major obstacles to doing business between the two countries. The new visa rules will make it much easier for business executives to travel from China to the United States, or vice versa, for meetings, training, and other business purposes, which could lead to an increase in trade between the two countries.

In addition to making it easier for business executives to travel, the new visa rules are also an attempt to increase tourism from China to the United States. China is currently the fastest growing outbound tourism market in the world, with 100 million Chinese citizens traveling abroad last year, and another 500 million expected to do so over the next ten years. Of the 100 million Chinese citizens who traveled abroad last year, less than 2% (about 1.8 million) of them visited the United States.

Shortly after the announcement of the new visa rules, the White House released a statement saying that “as a result of this arrangement, the United States hopes to welcome a growing share of eligible Chinese travelers, inject billions in the U.S. economy, and create enough demand to support hundreds of thousands of additional U.S. jobs”.  Analysts are predicting that the number of Chinese tourists who visit the United States could be as many as 7.3 million by 2021, an increase of over 400%.

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