China and Russia intend to expand trade and economic cooperation. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on this during the visit of the Chinese leader to Moscow. However, to implement this plan, businessmen and ordinary citizens will need more freedom of movement between countries, experts say. Recently, there has been a positive trend in this issue, but problems remain.
Visas, as it were
After a three-year lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, China has reopened its borders. Since February, citizens of the Celestial Empire have been allowed to visit 20 countries from the list, which includes Russia. And since March, China itself has begun issuing all types of entry visas to foreigners.
Now, Russians can obtain a Chinese visa in three ways: in advance at the Chinese Consulate General and its representative offices, upon arrival in China, or arrange a transit stay.
In the first case, you need to fill out an electronic form on the consulate website and wait until the date of the visit is set. When visiting the consulate, you must submit a questionnaire, passport, photographs, as well as documents confirming the purpose of the visit, such as hotel reservations. They promise to issue a visa within a week. But this is on paper, but in reality it is not so simple.
Due to the large number of applicants, it is now possible to apply for a visa in Moscow no earlier than two months, and in St. Petersburg – a month.
The second option is a visa on arrival, which is issued on the spot. However, for this it is necessary to have an invitation from the Chinese side, for example, from a business partner.
Finally, the third option is a transit visa. According to it, Russians will be able to stay up to 48 hours in Harbin and 144 hours in Beijing without visas, but with tickets to third countries.
The Association of Tour Operators noted that now the vast majority of those wishing to obtain a visa are businessmen, not tourists. To restore the tourist flow, it is necessary to resume visa-free group trips for Russians and Chinese.
Recall that such an agreement was signed by the governments of the Russian Federation and China back in 2000. It allowed tourists in groups of 5 to 50 people to visit Russia or China and stay there without a visa for 15 days.
The document was suspended in 2020 due to the pandemic. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced its resumption on February 20. But in practice, the mechanism has not yet worked. “And so far, there are no deadlines for the renewal of the agreement, even approximate ones, unfortunately,” the executive director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia told Parliamentary Newspaper Maya Lomidze.
The delays are related to the approval of the lists of travel companies that will be able to organize the transportation of visa-free travelers. Now these documents are under approval.
• Tour operators are asked to postpone for a year the introduction of fines for the absence of e-tickets
Without a piece of paper, but within the clusters
At the same time, according to Lomidze, it is necessary to talk not only about visa-free group trips, but in the future also about the introduction of a visa-free regime between the two countries as a whole: “A visa-free regime is needed because a mass flow is impossible on a visa basis. And inbound tourism is now very much in need of a mass flow.”
The prospects for visa-free entry of Russians to China and Chinese to Russia in the press center of Parliamentary Newspaper were assessed by the Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on trismus and the development of the tourism industry Natalia Kostenko: “We have good opportunities to make money on inbound tourism, and here the issue of a visa-free regime is, of course, important, because visas are expensive, they can be difficult to obtain.”
But, in her opinion, we need to talk not about being able to enter without a visa at all and travel around Russia wherever you want, but about separate visa-free zones. “For example, you can consider the issue of visa-free clusters in Sochi, St. Petersburg and Moscow, where there are upscale hotels,” Kostenko believes.
For electronic documents
St. Petersburg is interested in restoring the flow of guests in general, and, in particular, from China, the chairman of the city committee for tourism development confirmed to Parliamentary Newspaper Sergey Korneev. An effective tool for this, in addition to the renewal of the agreement on the visa-free exchange of tourist groups, may be the mechanism of electronic visas, he believes.
“In 2019, before the start of the pandemic, St. Petersburg became one of the pilot regions for the introduction of an e-visa. Our city that year received about 4.9 million foreign tourists – compared to 2018, the tourist flow increased by 26.8 percent,” said Korneev.
He clarified that in general, since the start of the pilot project and before the introduction of restrictive measures, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued more than 151,000 electronic visas for visiting St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region. “Undoubtedly, the restart of these instruments will allow us to actively realize the pent-up demand that our Eastern guests have for trips to Russia and St. Petersburg,” said Korneev.
Chinese cards in Russian hotels
The Ministry of Economic Development is also counting on the restoration of pre-Covid indicators. According to Deputy Minister Dmitry Vakhrukovthis can be achieved in the coming years.
For this, the possibility of simplified settlements of foreign tourists within Russia is also being worked out. For example, in pre-pandemic times, the Chinese could pay with their cards in some Russian hotels, the official said.
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