For our most recent visa update, see December 2010: China visa update.
As we've seen with the Olympics, the 60th Anniversary of the PRC and other special events, the visa situation in China during periods of increased tourist activity, can be quite a nightmare.
With that in mind, we've contacted our expert friends in the field to see what changes, if any, might be in store for the visa regime as Shanghai Expo 2010 approaches.
We first spoke with our friends at Shanghai-based VisainChina.com. Their website usually catalogues all changes in visa policy and is a good one to refer to for the latest official news and policy developments. What VisainChina is telling us now is that, so far, rules have not changed. But, VisainChina did emphasize that they cannot say the situation will remain predictable, and the onset of Expo may bring changes, or may not, but they've advised that although no new policies have come down, it's probably a good idea to obtain a new visa before Expo 2010's May 1 opening day, just in case.
Of course, changing visas is their bread and butter, so there may be a little interest in seeing people change their visas more often than otherwise necessary, but having dealt with them in the past, we can tell you that they've always been reliable (though apparently not always the cheapest).
Currently it is possible to change a tourist visa to a business visa, and to renew 6-month business visas and get another 6 months.
However, our friends at Beijing-based GetIn2China.com seemed to have a more pessimistic view of the situation. Getin2China's appraisal of the situation is as follows:
The "situation" is already getting more difficult. Getin2China has told us that they only have a limited number of visas they can issue (which may be the case for every private visa business). They advise that you begin the visa application process going before May 1, April 15 being even better.
Apparently, it is easier to get a visa in Beijing than in Shanghai, where the Expo is being held. It is possible for people in Shanghai to apply for their visas through Getin2China in Beijing if they are having trouble obtaining a visa in Shanghai. This process involves using an express delivery company (Getin2China recommends http://www.sf-express.com) and wiring money, but if you are in a crisis, this may be an option to consider. Contact Getin2China.com for more details.
Finally, visas are available to U.S. and Canadian citizens no problem, but when we asked about getting a 6-month business visa for a friend from South Africa, the response was "At recent moment we can't help your friend. Maybe later."
Check with either of the aforementioned websites or a Chinese consulate in your home country (Here is a list of Chinese consulates worldwide) for more details about this.
We'll keep you posted with more as developments occur.
Past posts about Chinese visas on ChinaTravel.net:
New China Visa Rules Update: 24 Changes You Need to Know About
China Visa Update: 12 month multiple-entry F visa available again
Year-End China Visa Update