KARACHI: A growing number of Chinese nationals are coming to Pakistan in the wake of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
According to reported figures, 71,000 Chinese nationals visited Pakistan in 2016, and 27,596 visa extensions were granted in that year, up by 41 per cent from a year earlier.
But a rising number of people in the business community of Pakistan are now saying that visas for China are becoming increasingly difficult to get. Moreover, even when they are granted, the validity period is seldom more than three months, and they are for single entry only.
Pakistan Soap Manufacturers Association (PSMA) Chairman Abdullah Zaki said the Chinese government should review its policy and grant multiple-entry visas to members of the business community, with a validity period of at least one year.
“Secondly, cumbersome and complex procedures for obtaining a Chinese visa have to be simplified. This will certainly take the existing bilateral trade volume to record-breaking new heights,” he added.
Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) President Shamim Firpo said visa rules and other regulations need to be eased, especially for Pakistan’s trader community, in view of the friendly bilateral relations and the CPEC. “But instead of getting friendlier, the rules are becoming more stringent than even those of the United States,” he laments.
New regulations now require business visitors to obtain an invitation from a Chinese company before applying for a visa. Business applicants from Pakistan are being told by their counterparts in China that their government has capped the number of invitations that any company can issue to foreign visitors at five per month.
“The KCCI has taken up the matter with the Chinese embassy in Islamabad and consulate in Karachi. But they offered little help, saying they are only following Beijing policy,” Mr Firpo said.
A large number of traders visit China every year to buy items in bulk and arrange for their shipment to Pakistan. It is a common business model for Pakistani traders to buy a few containers of consumer goods from China for the onward sale in retail markets of Pakistan. Many people from this community of traders tell Dawn that tightening visa restrictions over the previous year and a half have now begun to seriously impair their businesses.
An auto-part importer said that for the last two years the Chinese government has been asking for a police character certificate for the first-time visa applicants as well as those who have not visited for the last two years. “The general impression among our members is that visiting China is getting complicated,” he said, adding that European countries and the United States grant five-year visas.
Association of Pakistan Motorcycle Assemblers (APMA) Chairman Sabir Sheikh said China should at least relax its visa policy for those businessmen who have dealt with Chinese counterparts for the last 10 years and have been frequent travellers. The Chinese government must have the record of these Pakistani people, he said.
Another trader, who did not wish to speak for attribution for fear of complicating future visa applications, said travel agents have made some kind of an arrangement whereby with their help some 20 to 25 visa forms are submitted on holidays at Chinese embassy or consulates.
The first-time visitor to China pays Rs100,000 to the travel agent while the regular visitor to China hands over Rs35,000-40,000. Resultantly, the application is processed smoothly. Difficulties arise if one tries to approach consular authorities directly. Against a hefty fee, the agent makes all arrangements for the character certificate as well as an invitation from Chinese businesses.
No data is available on how many Pakistanis visited China in 2016, and how that figure would compare with preceding months.
Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2017