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Business Trips to China Face Disruptions Due to Visa, Passport Delays

The country is finally reopening its borders, but companies are being been warned about severe delays in getting the required paperwork to enter

by Fergus Cole

January 10, 2023

Photo: Courtesy of Road Trip with Raj / Unsplash

As China finally opens its borders to foreign visitors after almost three years of strict COVID restrictions, businesses are being warned about delays getting into the country due to a backlog of visa and passport applications.

China has had some of the tightest travel restrictions in the world to curb the spread of COVID in the country where the virus was first identified in early 2020. Foreign visitors have been effectively banned from entering the country for around three years, with entry limited to just Chinese citizens and residents.

However, China is finally moving away from its zero-COVID policy and allowing foreign tourists and business travelers into the country following a wave of anti-government protests, despite rising COVID cases.

But companies hoping to return to China for corporate business have been warned they could face severe delays in attaining the necessary paperwork to enter the country. The head of a major business travel company based in Shanghai, BCD Travel, issued the warning, claiming a massive backlog of travel document applications and ongoing restrictions within the country hampering their progress.

Photo: Airport queue in Guangzhou, China. Courtesy of Hiurich Granja / Unsplash

“China has suspended passport renewals in the past three years, so now travelers are rushing to have their new passports issued,” said Jonathan Kao, managing director at BCD Travel Greater China.

“Visas are also an issue as most have expired and some of the major embassies, like the U.S., Germany, and Japan, were closed in the last few weeks due to increasing cases of COVID in China leading to staffing issues.”

Scott Davies, CEO of the Institute of Travel Management, added that some of his company’s members “have issued a company-wide travel advisory restricting travel to and from China to business-critical only, and with the approval of their company’s China crisis management team.”

While the warning will come as a blow to companies looking to resume business operations in China, it will also serve as another dent to the country’s suffering tourism industry. Last week, several countries reimposed travel restrictions on visitors coming from China due to rising COVID cases. Some even started demanding Chinese passengers test for a negative PCR.

City of Hong Kong, China / Photo: Huang yi fei/Shutterstock

However, in a final bit of good news for people hoping to travel to China, it has been reported that more flights are operating than before, which has helped push prices down in recent months.

“Airlines have been adding new flights in the past few weeks, so this is becoming less of a problem,” said Kao, referring to staffing and capacity issues many other countries faced after reopening their borders. “The prices have come down somewhat compared to the month before due to the increase in flights.”

Recently, Etihad Airways announced the addition of one weekly frequency on its flights to Shanghai (PVG). The Abu Dhabi-based carrier cites increased demand for flights to China, where it added more capacity for flights to Shanghai and Guangzhou.

The new flight to Shanghai will complement the airline’s current weekly flight to Beijing and the recently inaugurated twice-weekly flights to Guangzhou.