BEIJING (AP) — For his job with IBM, Yang Bo has so far traveled to the United States at least 10 times — and is heading to North Carolina soon for more meetings. Li Aiqi is preparing to start her bachelor's degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology. And Ye Peng, an English teacher in Beijing, wants to take four of her elementary school students to San Jose to take classes with Americans kids.
On Wednesday, they were among 11 people given the first-ever U.S. visas to let Chinese citizens travel back and forth to the United States for up to 10 years. In a new agreement, announced this week during the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Beijing will issue similar visas to Americans looking to make repeated trips to China.
The rules will cut red tape for frequent travelers at a time when Washington is looking to boost economic ties with Beijing. The Obama administration also is hoping the extended visas will lure even more Chinese — and their wallets — to the United States.
"This will pay huge dividends for American and Chinese citizens and it will strengthen both of our economies," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at a short ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where he handed out the visas to the 11 Chinese travelers.
"We're going to make history here," Kerry said. "You are literally helping to write the next great chapter of the history between the United States and China."
More U.S. visas are issued to Chinese tourists, business people and students than citizens of any other country, including nearly 2 million last year alone, according to the State Department.
Under the new rules, both the United States and China will allow tourists and business travelers to apply for visas that allow multiple entries to the others' country for up to 10 years. Ten years is the longest length of time a visa can be issued to a visiting foreigner under U.S. laws.
Students, exchange visitors and their immediate families will be able to travel in and out for up to five years — generally, the length of their studies. Chinese citizens make up the largest group of foreign students in the U.S.
The media-shy Chinese travelers who picked up their visas were not available for interviews, save some gentle queries by Kerry as he handed them their passports.
"Congratulations to you. What are you going to do?" Kerry asked Kang Yusi, a graduate of the University of Kansas who wants to return to the U.S. as a tourist.
The soft-spoken woman's reply could not be heard, but Kerry relayed her answer.
"She's going to travel with her parents, and I'm going to get her to promise to spend a lot of money," he said.
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