New 10-Year Visitor Visa for China Commences!

Simon Haag and Tom Ying

After much anticipation, the Department of Immigration announced on 12 December 2016 that the new 10 year 'Frequent Traveller' visitor visa is now open to PRC nationals. The 10-year visa is of significant benefit to frequent short-term travellers by avoiding multiple visa applications being made, with related processing times and multiple government fees for each visa being avoided. The initial visa fee of $1000 however, is substantial and this has caused some controversy within the Chinese community as to this amount as well consideration for affected visitors as to the length of visa they will seek.

Visa applicants in China will be able to lodge the visitor visa applications in Chinese through the new online service provided by Australian Visa Application Centres (AVACs). This visa is suited to Chinese travellers who need to travel frequently to and for short-term stays in Australia.

Chinese passport holders wishing to apply for this visa must first make an appointment to provide biometrics identifiers (fingerprints and photograph) at an Australian Visa Application Centre (AVAC) in China before lodging an application which is then an online process.

Pros of new 10-year visitor visa for PRC nationals

  • The visa can be approved for up to 10 years
  • China is already the largest source of tourism to the Australian economy, the introduction of the new 10-year visa will translate to significant benefits to the tourism economy
  • Reinforces international relations which is aligned with the China - Australia Free Trade Agreement.
  • New online lodgment system designed to simplify the process & reduce red tape whilst maintaining integrity of the system- applications can be lodged in Chinese online and will be translated for processing

Cons new 10-year visitor visa for PRC nationals

  • High government charge of AUD 1000
  • Only a limited number of these trial visas are available (number of availability not currently clarified)
  • 3 month stay maximum every entry, maximum cumulative stay of no more than 12 months in a 2 year period.
  • No clarity at this stage on how immigration expects applicants to show that they have 'committed long term plans for frequent short-term travel to Australia'.

The government has given the Department of Immigration a degree of control over this visa through the imposing certain conditions/restrictions on the visa grant. These include restrictions that 1) allow the minister to request a 600 visa holder under the Frequent Traveller stream to under a new medical check at any time, 2) requires a 600 visa holder to update Immigration with any change of contact details including phone number, online profile, e-mail and address, and 3) restrict the visa holder from making any further visa applications other than a protection visa.

It will be interesting to see the developments over the next few weeks, particularly in relation to the number of trial visas available and whether Immigration requires additional evidence from the applications to justify the need of a 10-year tourist visa. As the number of visa availability is limited, it may be a 'first in first serve basis' similar to when the working holiday visa program was introduced to PRC nationals, where the 3000 spots were filled within 2 - 3 days after the program release.

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