China is resuming visa processing for foreigners from dozens of countries, but only if they have been inoculated against Covid-19 with a Chinese-made vaccine.
The move has raised questions about the motivations behind the demand, given China’s vaccines are not approved in many of the countries to which it has opened travel and that it will not accept foreign vaccines made elsewhere, including those approved by the World Health Organization.
Beijing had largely banned non-essential travel into China during the pandemic. Resumption of travel is a key driver for economic recovery and many countries are discussing carefully negotiated bubbles, or mutually recognised vaccination passports, as they implement domestic vaccine rollouts.
The announcements made by Chinese embassies in about 20 countries this week vary slightly for each country but mostly pledge a return to pre-pandemic visa processing for some groups, so as to resume “people-to-people exchanges in an orderly manner”.
So far it is open to foreigners from places including Hong Kong, the US, the UK, India, Australia, Iraq, Thailand, Croatia, Israel, Pakistan and the Philippines. Any prospective entrants must have taken either the full two-dose course of a vaccine, or a single dose vaccine at least 14 days before travelling, but the vaccine must be one of China’s domestically produced shots. Negative Covid tests and quarantine rules still apply.
The statement issued by the embassy in the US said China would now allow the return of “foreign nationals and their family members visiting the mainland of China for resuming work and production in various fields”. It also broadened eligibility for non-emergent “humanitarian needs” travel, for family members of Chinese citizens or residents who want to visit for family reunions, care for elderly or ill relatives, or attend funerals.