by Xu Lin
BEIJING, Sept. 7 (Xinhuanet) -- The European Union's delegation to China recently announced that Schengen nations will require Chinese visa applicants to provide biometric data beginning Oct 12.
First-timers will have to apply in person at consulates or external service providers to give fingerprints and a digital photo.
The Schengen Area's Visa Information System requires biometric data. The VIS handles all Schengen-visa applications and contains all member states' decisions about entry.
The Schengen Area refers to 26 European countries that have exempted visa and other border controls among shared borders.
"Taking fingerprints is nothing to be scared about," says the German embassy in Beijing's visa section deputy director, Patricia van de Water.
"It's a simple procedure that only takes a few minutes. We have been taking fingerprints for our national visas since 2013, and it has been very smooth and familiar. For frequent travelers, it's very convenient."
Biometric data and information provided on the visa application forms will be stored in the system's central database for 59 months.
Successful applicants won't need to appear in person for subsequent solicitations to Schengen nations until the data expires.
Children younger than 12 and people who are physically unable to provide fingerprints are exempt.
All visas issued before Oct 12 will remain valid until the expiration dates printed on them. Visas printed with "VIS" status indicate biometrics have been collected. "VIS-0" means they haven't.
Chinese tourism website Ilvxing.com's CEO Qin Qing suggests Chinese who'll travel within the next three months apply ahead of the new rules' implementation. (Those who do so can get a three-month visa.)
Biometric data not only facilitate visa applications and checks but also enhance security, authorities claim. They protect against identity theft and false identifications, they say.
Many Chinese share the same names, and many were even born on the same dates in the same provinces. Misidentifications may delay visa applications or even lead to denials.
"We offer one of the best visa services in China, and we have worked very hard to achieve this," van de Water says.
"I'm very proud to say that we process all Schengen visa applications in 48 hours ... even in high seasons."
She says 97 percent of Schengen visa applications are successful.
China is unique in that more than half the applications are from business travelers.
"We issue more long-term Schengen visas to frequent travelers," she says, noting that the number doubled last year.
"We've updated our homepage with more detailed information. And it's customer-oriented, easy to read."
Germany issued nearly 330,000 visas to Chinese in 2014.
From January to July, Germany's five visa sections in China received a record total of 250,000 applications, a 26 percent increase over the same period last year.
Chinese must submit biometric data at Schengen countries' consulates or application centers, most of which are in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong's provincial capital, Guangzhou, Chinese online travel-booking giant Ctrip explains.
Germany also has visa-application centers in Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu, and Liaoning's provincial capital, Shenyang.
It'll open more in major cities after receiving Chinese authorities' nod.
Spain's consul general in Beijing, Joaquin de Aristegui Laborde, says his country also plans new centers in major cities to make biometric-data gathering easier. Its plan is also pending Chinese approval.
"You only have to do it once in five years," he says.
"It's very accessible. It may seem a bit uncomfortable at the beginning, but it's better for the applicants."
Spain has also upgraded its embassy in Beijing and consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou to provide biometrics collection.
They're working with travel agencies to accommodate their needs and ensure procedures go smoothly.
Aristegui says Spain issues or denies visas for Chinese within 48 hours on average.
"Chinese travelers love to visit Madrid, Barcelona and Andalusia due to their picturesque views, cultural heritage, delicious cuisines and shopping," he says.
"In the future, there will be more activities between China and Spain. And we will increase the frequency of flights and open flights to more Chinese cities."
Such marketing is Europe hoping to make its imprint on Chinese tourists.
(Source: chinadaily.com.cn )