The State Department has already increased visa processing in China, reduced wait times, and introduced a pilot program that waives interviews for some non-immigrant applicants, according to Gary Locke, the U.S. ambassador to China.

Speaking in Beijing last week, Locke said that in 2011, the state department processed more than 1 million visa applications in China, an increase of 34% over the previous year, and that already in the first few months of fiscal year 2012, it had processed 48% more visas in China compared to the same period in 2011.

He also said that wait times for interviews had already decreased in 2012, to less than six days last week at all posts in China.

"President Obama has set a worldwide goal to interview 80% of all visa applicants within three weeks of the request for an appointment. In China, we are already meeting this goal and intend to continue to do so," Locke said according to a transcript from the embassy.

In order to meet increasing demand in 2012 and beyond, Locke said the embassy is assigning 50 new consular officers to China and will reopen a consular facility in Beijing that will increase interviewing in the city by 50%.

Locke also said that a new worldwide pilot program is being launched in China that will permit consular officers to waive interviews for some non-immigrant applicants. The program applies only to those renewing their visa within 48 months of the expiration of their previous visa, and must be within the same classification.

"We expect that this will benefit tens of thousands of applicants in China, saving them time and money, and making it easier for them to travel to the United States more frequently," Locke said. "It will also free our resources to interview more first-time applicants, and to do so quickly."

The moves come on the heels of President Obama's Jan. 19 announcement of a new strategy to increase inbound travel and tourism.

The U.S. Travel Association commended Locke's announcement.

"The State Department is to be commended for its response to the growing demand for U.S. visa applications in China," Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said in a statement.

"I want to thank Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Locke for their efforts in reducing visa interview wait times, increasing the amount of visas processed and developing initiatives, such as the interview waiver pilot program, to make business and leisure travel to the United States more accessible to Chinese citizens."

Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw.

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