The criticism over government’s proposed Chinese visa policy continued this week in the media and on radio talk show programs – days after Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith made the announcement. In addition to complaints and criticism of the ideas, at least one resident has ventured to create a petition in an attempt to influence Government to rethink the plan.
Visa Free Announcement was made on 21 June by Premier Smith following his return from Asia. During that press sit down Hon. Smith told tjournalists that government was desirous to attract more Asian tourists and was using a two pronged approach to captivate visitors from that huge and affluent market that is 10 times bigger than the USA.
In presenting the visa free plan the Premier stated that the idea is a good one since Chinese and Asian tourists are known to be enthusiastic travelers: “The Chinese…travel more than any other people from any other country. They love to travel and visit other countries. One of the challenges they have had, which would be coming to the BVI is the…visa requirement and also the distance,” Hon. Smith explained.
Hon. Smith said that airport expansion coupled with the visa free policy would make travel to the BVI far more appealing to Asian tourists: “They will come here without the difficulty they are getting… It will be easier and they will be more inclined to come to spend their vacation here,” Hon. Smith explained.
In expanding on this optimistic forecast the Premier said: “What we have seen, as the linkage for example in many ways is these visitors, these Chinese persons – tourists…they go to America whether it is New York, Miami or whatever; and then it is an easy thing to extend their vacation to come to the BVI and other places in the Caribbean. Having a visa free access would allow them, encourage them to do that. All this is essentially improving, increasing the tourism here in the BVI; and improving the economy of the BVI,” the Premier added.
On June 23, a few days after the Premier announced the visa free plan a petition was created aimed at halting furtherance of that idea. The author of the petition Julio “Sam” Henry said that the petition was to encourage the government to reconsider the proposal as it would have a negative immigration effect.
In the wake of this criticism suggesting that the policy would lead to a large influx of Chinese migrants a press release was issued to further explain the policy.
It was stressed that under the policy nationals of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would be able enter for business and tourism related matters only, but they will only be granted stays up to six months.
According to the government release this new visa free policy supports the 1 September 2016 visa-free policy that allows persons to obtain the visa for business and tourism using a visa from United Kingdom (UK), United States of America (USA) or Canada.
It was further noted that visiting Chinese nationals will also have to adhere to the typical passport, immigration and other border controls policies and laws of the Territory.
“In 2016, the BVI submitted an application to the PRC to receive Approved Destination Status (ADS), which designates permission from the PRC Government to countries to promote their tourism in the Chinese market and to further allow Chinese nationals and tour groups to visit these destinations for tourism purposes,” the release stated.
Meanwhile, it was noted that the Territory was competing against regional destinations such as Antigua and Barbuda, Turks and Caicos Islands and Jamaica for Chinese tourists, and it was also noted that these countries also implemented visa-free entries.
Donovan Defends China Connection
Elise Donovan, the Director of BVI House Asia and the Asia Pacific Regional Representative in a statement issued on 23 June emphasized the importance of the BVI furtherance of its relationship with China. She said: “It makes sense to align economically with the country offering more opportunities to invigorate, diversify and grow the BVI economy. Investing resources in strengthening the BVI/China partnership is not only strategic, but also basic common sense. The benefits accrue to all – they trickle up, down and across the BVI economy.”
Donovan stressed that China has an enviable spending power that many countries around the world are looking to capitalize on: “With few exceptions, countries across the globe have been pivoting to China to get a slice of its growing economic pie. This is with good reason. China is the world’s second largest economy (and according to the IMF, the largest when corrected for purchasing power parity) and has the largest share, and growing, of the globe’s wealthy consumers among its 1.42 billion people,” she pointed out.
Speaking directly to the tourism initiative the Territory is pushing Donovan said: “It’s not just the financial services business, but countries are also vying for the Chinese tourism market. China is now the largest tourism source market in the world and accounts for 21 percent of the world’s international tourism spending.”
“According to the World Tourism Organisation, in 2012, China became the world’s top spender in international tourism and has remained so ever since. In 2016 Chinese made 135 million trips overseas (including for cruises) and spent US $261 billion on their holidays abroad. The BVI is trying to tap into this front too and has applied for Approved Destination Status to be able to market its tourism product in China. To further demonstrate its commitment, the BVI Government recently approved visa-free access for Chinese travelers to the BVI for tourism and business purposes,” she added.