Posted Thu 17 Apr 2014, 1:33pm AEST
The recent trip to China by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Australian business leaders highlighted the importance of China to Australia’s economy. When it comes to tourism, China is Australia’s fastest growing inbound tourism market and largest contributor to international visitor spending in Australia.
James Packer, a member of Mr Abbott’s business delegation, says it should be easier for Chinese people to visit Australia.
Mr Packer is the chairman and majority shareholder of Crown Resorts, the operator of casino hotels in Melbourne, Perth and the Macau Special Administrative Region of China, which competes with other destination resorts in places such as Singapore and Las Vegas. On April 8, Mr Packer told Melbourne radio that it didn’t make sense that visa application forms in China should be filled out in English and it didn’t make sense that they had to be sent through the post.
“Australia accepts online visa applications; we don’t from China,” Mr Packer said. “In China if you want to apply for an Australian visa, you have to apply in English. At a very high level I think we should make it as easy for a wealthy Chinese citizen to come to Australia as we do for a wealthy American citizen.”
ABC Fact Check takes a look at what Chinese people need to do to apply for a tourist visa and how this compares with Australia’s global competitors.
Australia competes with other countries for Chinese tourists and more onerous visa processes may make Australia less competitive.
According to an April 10 media release from the Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, mainland China is “Australia’s fastest growing and most valuable inbound tourism market, with 709,300 Chinese visitor arrivals in 2013 spending approximately $4.7 billion”. Mr Robb says spending by Chinese visitors to Australia could reach $13 billion by 2020.
While outbound tourism by Chinese people has been consistently increasing (81.4 million trips in 2012, up by 16 per cent on the previous year), the proportion visiting Australia is falling (Australia’s share fell from 1 per cent in 2011 to 0.7 per cent in 2012).
Other countries are also in the hunt for Chinese visitors. For example, the US state of California has a ‘China Ready’ program which it says is designed “to prepare the state’s tourism industry to better serve Chinese travellers”. The United Kingdom has also set a strategy to aggressively increase inbound Chinese tourism. Similarly, Immigration New Zealand tells Fact Check that “Increasing the number of visitors and migrants from new markets such as China is a key priority to growing the [New Zealand] economy”.
All of these countries have their own unique attractions. However, according to Mr Packer, “in the modern era of ultra-competitive tourism, Australia can’t afford to be middle of the pack on visa processing.” Fact Check asked other tourism operators, including Echo Entertainment (the operator of casinos in Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast), the Adelaide Casino and Hamilton Island, but they declined to comment on the visa issue.
Visitors other than New Zealand citizens need to obtain a visa or travel authority before arriving in Australia.
The process that a Chinese person in China needs to follow when applying for an Australian visa is clearly set out in both English and Chinese on the Australian embassy’s website. The main points to note are:
Not all people visiting Australia face this process. Holders of passports from around 32 countries and territories can apply for an ‘Electronic Travel Authority‘ allowing for a three month entry as a tourist.
An ETA is free, although a $20 service fee is charged for online applications. People from eight countries including the United States, Canada, South Korea, Japan and even the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China who are of good character can apply online for an ETA. Citizens of the United Kingdom and other European countries are still eligible for an ETA but cannot apply online. The ETA online application is available in both English and Japanese.
Citizens of other countries or those who have criminal convictions need to apply for a visitor visa as Chinese citizens do.
Fact Check asked the Department of Immigration and Border Protection about the visa application process for Chinese people and whether there were any plans to make it easier for them. Fact Check was told that the query was referred to the office of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison. The Minister’s office did not provide a response.
Officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and New Zealand provided details of their visa processes to Fact Check. None of these countries allows the forms to be completed in Chinese and most cannot be completed wholly online.
A US State Department official told Fact Check that information about applying for a US visa is available in both English and Chinese on the website of the US embassy in Beijing. The form is in English, but the official says that “there is a language translation tool available for multiple languages, including Chinese, that provides hover translations of the application fields while completing the online form”. The form has to be completed online, however the applicant may also have to attend the embassy or a visa office for a “visa interview”. The interview can be conducted in Chinese. People who are under 14 or over 80 or have had a US visa before usually do not need to attend an interview. A non-immigrant visa carries a fee of $US160 (around $170).
A UK Home Office official tells Fact Check that “UK visa applicants must first complete, submit and pay for their visa application online [and then] visit their nearest visa application centre to provide their biometric data – fingerprints and digital photograph – and submit their documents”. The application form is in English, but there is Chinese language on the form. There is a Chinese language website and Mandarin assistance service available via telephone, email and webchat. The visa fee is 82 pounds (around $150).
Citizenship and Immigration Canada says that visa applications must be made in either English or French, Canada’s official languages. Any supporting documents also have to be translated into one of these languages. However, Chinese people can apply for a visitor visa online. The fee for a Chinese visa is $C100 (around $97).
A spokesman for the French consulate in Australia tells Fact Check that a French visa application needs to be completed in French or English. An in-person visa interview is required, however it can be booked online. The visa costs 60 euro (approximately $88).
New Zealand, like Australia, has a visa form in both Chinese and English, but requires it to be filled out in English. The form needs to be lodged at one of four visa application centres in China, however an Immigration New Zealand spokesman tells Fact Check that the department is implementing a new system “known as Immigration ONLINE which by 2015 will enable nearly all customers to apply for visas online”. The fee is 860 RMB (around $150).
Mr Packer has previously referred to Singapore, with its two casino resorts, as a key competitor to Australia for the Chinese tourism dollar. Singapore allows visa applications to be completed online or on paper through the embassy in Beijing or 24 “authorised visa agents” in Chinese cities. The applications need to be completed in English, although presumably a local agent would be able to take the information from the applicant in Chinese. The costs range from 153 RMB (around $26, for applications sent to the embassy) to RMB 420 (around $72, for some applications through authorised agents).
As for China, it allows Australians to apply for visitor visas in English. Applications can be prepared online, however it is necessary to lodge them by post or in person at a China visa application service centre, located in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Canberra.
A single entry tourist visa costs $98 for an in-person application or $115 via post.
Mr Packer is correct. Australia does require Chinese people to complete visa applications in English and on paper. Australia’s competitors for the tourism dollar impose similar requirements, particularly in relation to the use of English. Some allow online applications.
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