The U.S. will begin issuing extended-validity visas this week to Chinese nationals under a new reciprocal visa agreement between the two countries, the U.S. State Department has announced.

Under the agreement, announced Monday, business and tourist visas between the two countries will be valid for 10 years and student and exchange visitor visas will be extended to five years. Currently, all of these visas are valid for one year.

Below is a list of questions and answers for travelers interested in these new visas:

Q: When will the new visas be available?

The State Department announced it will begin issuing visas with longer validity to Chinese applicants Wednesday, Nov. 12.

Q: Which visa types does this affect?

The new policy affects business and tourist (B-1 and B-2) visas, Student (F and M) visas and Exchange visitor (J) visas.

Q: How are the longer-validity visas different from current visas?

Business and tourist visas will be valid for multiple entries and valid for up to 10 years. The student and exchange visas will be multiple-entry visas valid for up to five years or the length of the student or exchange programs.

The main benefit is that applicants can obtain the multiple-entry visas and avoid having to apply every year for a new visa and pay a new fee every time.

Q: Does this increase my length of stay in the U.S.?

No. The validity period of the visa does not change the length of stay a visitor is allowed on their visas. For example, a Chinese business visitor may obtain a B-1 visa for a duration of three months that is valid for 10 years. That visitor may enter the U.S. multiple times during the 10-year period on the same visa but can only stay for three months each time.

Q: Does this automatically extend an existing, valid visa?

No. Visas that are currently valid will expire on the specified date and the holder must apply for the new multiple-entry extended-validity visas.

Q: Will there be a long wait for the new visas?

U.S. consular officials anticipate that these visas will be “very popular” among Chinese applicants and stated they are taking steps to manage a potential backlog in hopes of keeping visa processing times “as short as they have been over the past several years.”

Q: What about family members of students and exchange visitors?

Dependent family members of students and exchange visitors are also eligible for visas valid for up to five years.

Q: Does this change other factors affecting approval of my visa?

No. The extended validity does not change who qualifies for a visa, eligibility for the Interview Waiver Program, or whether certain applicants are subject to additional security vetting (“administrative processing”). Depending on the facts, however, applicants who are subject to administrative processing may not obtain the maximum validity.

Q: When should I apply for these visas?

There is no deadline to apply. The visa agreement between China and the U.S. is intended to be a long-term arrangement. As always, applicants are encouraged to apply as early as possible to account for a potential rush of applications and delays that may ensue. They should also plan for delays caused by an applicant being flagged for additional administrative processing.

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