The European Union will set up visa centers in 15 Chinese cities that do not have embassies or consulates for EU member nations, a move expected to attract a large number of tourists from second-tier cities.[Special coverage]
Embassies and consulates of EU countries in China are mainly located in first-tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Several major European nations have opened consulates in a limited number of second-tier cities such as Shenyang, Wuhan and Chengdu. Still, residents of other cities have to travel far away or pay travel agencies to apply for Schengen visas, which are good for any EU country. The 15 cities have not yet been announced.
Premier Li Keqiang said on Monday that the new visa centers will benefit more tourists, businesspeople and students studying abroad.
"Existing embassies and consulates cannot meet the surging demand for Chinese citizens heading for Europe. The visa centers can help fill the gap," said Zhang Yuanyuan, former Chinese ambassador to Belgium.
He said that by diplomatic tradition, it is possible that China will set up visa centers in European cities.
"I hope Qingdao is among the 15 cities. That would save a lot of time and effort," said Fan Yonghong, a businesswoman in the coastal city in Shandong province.
Qingdao has South Korean and Japanese consulates, but no European ones. Fan went to Beijing when she applied for a Schengen visa last year.
The announcement of new visa centers came as various European countries moved this year to simplify visa policies for Chinese visitors.
Tourists heading for France, Spain and Italy can get visas in one or two days. The German embassy has expanded its visa office to provide better service, while French and Finnish embassies can send visas to applicants by express delivery.
Britain and Belgium will start their united visa application service on Wednesday. The policy will enable Chinese tourists and businesspeople to get British and Schengen visas in just one trip to any united visa center in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou.
According to a Reuters report, 22 Chinese tourist visits can create a job in the British tourism industry.
Chinese tourists rank first around the world in terms of overseas spending. The Financial Times has said Chinese tourists spent $498 billion abroad last year.
Chinese made about 120 million foreign visits last year, and the figure is expected to rise to reach 200 million by 2020.