About the Author: Benjamin Sand serves as the Vice Consul at U.S. Embassy Beijing.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing went slightly off the beaten path this week to help launch DS-160, the State Department's new on-line visa application form, which will help save around three million pieces of paper in China this year. Following brief introductory comments from embassy staff, actors from one of China's top Peking opera companies performed a promotional skit for several dozen Chinese reporters. Musicians playing traditional Chinese gongs, cymbals, drums and lutes accompanied a song and dance routine touting the new visa form's speed, clarity and environmental friendliness.
The opera featured the traditional Chinese figure the Monkey King, who was renowned for speed, efficiency, wisdom and the ability to travel great distances with ease in the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West . Moving forward, the U.S. Embassy will use photos of the Monkey King with the Consul General showing him how to fill out the on-line form to help promote the DS-160 in China.
The new form is being rolled out amid a global surge in non-immigrant visa applications to visit the United States, including a half million applicants from mainland China. In a video statement screened at our February 3 media event, U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman said the record number of applicants included almost a hundred thousand students heading to U.S. universities and research centers.
"Compare that to 30 years ago,” the Ambassador said, “In 1979, the embassy issued just 4,700 non-immigrant visas, of which 770 were students. So in just three decades, the number of Chinese visitors to the United States has increased more than 100 times.”
As of March 1, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in China will only be accepting the new online form, which provides special "pop-up" Chinese translations of questions.
Ambassador Huntsman said, “The most important message is this: The new form should be easier for you and faster for us. That means this year, the Year of the Tiger, we hope to see more applicants, issue more visas, and welcome more Chinese visitors to the United States.”
For more photos and local coverage, please see the following slideshow.