China’s rapid dismantling of Covid restrictions has caught some embassies and consulates off guard and understaffed, causing complications in issuing visas and delaying the resumption of international business activity. Joerg Wuttke, Chairman of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, said some Chinese executives are waiting as long as six to eight weeks to get business visas to travel to Europe. Prior to the pandemic, typical applications could sometimes be completed in a matter of days. Schengen-area countries are most affected, in particular Germany. At least two leading foreign business groups in China have called for a return to systems and processes used before the pandemic. Chinese tourists wishing to travel to Europe have also faced visa delays, forcing some to cancel or rearrange plans. Wuttke attributed the bottlenecks with German visa approvals to a lack of resources to handle the spike in demand. “They simply have no staffing to actually cope again,” he said.
Compounding matters, China’s Covid policy reversal coincided with Christmas and the Lunar New Year holidays. Some countries outsource parts of their visa handling to companies like VFS Global, BLS International and TLScontact. Several of those scaled back operations during the years of Covid curbs, when demand for international travel was almost non-existent.
A Spokesman at the German Embassy in Beijing cited closures of VFS centers “for almost three years” explaining the delays. “Reopening of the centers at each location requires thorough preparation,” he said, adding that Beijing operations should be ready to restart in mid-February. With China still imposing Covid-related entry requirements, Germany is reciprocating with steps of its own, including a rule for travelers from China to take Covid tests. The Embassy Spokesman said tourism trips from China to Germany aren’t permitted. Last month, Germany advised against non-essential travel to China due to the number of infections in the country. Germans in China, including one auto industry executive, complain that paperwork to secure German visas has become too onerous. The German Chamber of Commerce’s North China Executive Director, Jens Hildebrandt, said German companies in China suffer a competitive disadvantage because applicants need to prove that business trips are absolutely necessary and explain why their aims cannot be achieved remotely. “Previous to the pandemic, this was not the case,” he said. “German businesses urgently need to send Chinese employees to Germany and hope for the German Foreign Ministry to reinstate the pre-pandemic visa process as soon as possible.”
The visa delays are affecting business plans. The head of a firm that introduces Chinese companies to opportunities in Scandinavia said that an investment trip for a client may have to be cancelled because his team is still trying to get business visas, the South China Morning Post reports.