Perhaps there is not a lot that China and the United States can agree upon, but this week the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of China were able to agree upon a revision of the visa reciprocity rules, allowing Americans to obtain visas of greater duration to enter China and Chinese nationals to enter the United States.

A little known component of our visa system is the reciprocity rules in place with reference to visa issuance. Exactly how does this work? Basically, we do to them what they do to us! Thus, if Country X will only issue intra-company transferee visas with a validity of one year, and will charge a filing fee of $750, nationals of Country X applying as intra-company transferees to the United States will also have to pay a $750 filing fee and the visa issued will be limited to one year. These limits will supersede and serve as a restriction on the normal time periods allowable for visa issuance.

Information concerning reciprocity agreements between the U.S. and other countries can be accessed via the State Department’s website at http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/fees/reciprocity-by-country.html. For each nation, the table shows applicable nonimmigrant visa category, visa issuance fee, the maximum period of visa validity and number of entries that may be authorized.

It has been a subject of debate as to whether maintaining these reciprocity limitations further United States diplomatic interest worldwide, and serve to the benefit of American travelers overseas. The debate will certainly continue long after President Obama’s visit to China, but in this instance, it was a valuable diplomatic tool.