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Visa Change With China Designed To Help U.S. Economy

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Years ago, a politician told me a rule of his craft - politicians work with their rivals where they can, even if they disagree on everything else. You'd be forgiven for thinking some American politicians totally forgot that rule. But in diplomacy, the U.S. and China remembered it.

For all of their differences, the two governments reached agreements as President Obama visits Beijing. In a moment, we'll hear about a trade deal. We start with another agreement that goes into effect tomorrow. Chinese tourists and businesspeople can more easily visit the U.S. They can receive multiple-entry visas valid for up to 10 years. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from Shanghai.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: The first impression most Chinese have with the American government comes when they apply for a visa. For years, they dreaded the process.

MEI ZHANG: It was humiliating.

LANGFITT: Mei Zhang runs Bishan, a tour company in Beijing that caters to wealthy Chinese.

ZHANG: If anyone's experienced a Beijing cold winter - you stood out there in the street for three hours waiting to get into the embassy.

LANGFITT: Then, often Chinese had to convince a visa officer they weren't secretly planning to emigrate to America. By all accounts, the wait time is much shorter now. Zhang says, sparing Chinese from having to reapply for new visa each year will make travel even easier.

ZHANG: This has removed a major obstacle. You can go back to America again, again.

RYAN BECKER: China is our number one overseas market.

LANGFITT: Ryan Becker works for Visit California, a nonprofit industry group that markets the state. He says Chinese spent nearly $2 billion in California last year - more than tourists from any other country.

BECKER: We're very excited about the changes. It's the kind of smart policy that we think makes sense on many different levels.

LANGFITT: Becker says Chinese visits to California were already expected to double by 2017. He says the visa extension will just mean more tourists and more spending. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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