Sunday, October 08, 2006

APEC Business Travel Card Scheme

Back of APEC Business Travel CardFront of APEC Business Travel CardWhen I visited China a few years ago I had to apply for a Visa. What I didn't realize was that I could instead apply for an APEC Business Travel Card. This is a good example of use of some high tech and streamlined business processes to solve a problem.

I live in Canberra where the embassies are, which makes getting travel documents easier, and in my case I was invited as a VIP by the relevant government. The Beijing 2008 Olympic Committee, who invited me to talk at a seminar on web design, gave me a letter for the Embassy. Even so, it was not an inexpensive or simple process. I handed over my passport and was expecting to get a rubber stamp in it, but instead got a pages pasted in which looked like another passport. This seemed a lot of trouble to go to, both for myself and the countries officials for each visit.

With APEC Business Travel Card Scheme business people can apply once to their own country and get a visa for countries in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Hong Kong (China), Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, People's Republic of China, The Philippines, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, Vietnam). The cards last for three years and there are special 'APEC lanes' at airports for card holders. The cards cost less than applying for a visa from several countries.
The Scheme was developed in response to the need of business people to gain streamlined business visitor entry to the economies of the Asia-Pacific region to:
  • explore business opportunities
  • attend meetings
  • conduct trade and investment activities.
... The APEC Business Travel Card cuts through the red tape of business travel. Through a single application form, the card allows accredited business people to obtain multiple short-term business visitor entry to participating economies. ...

Cardholders can stay at least two months on each visit, with some participating economies providing three months stay on each visit. ...

From, About the APEC Business Travel Card Scheme, DIMA
You might think APEC developed some super hi-tech computer system to process the applications, but they used a low tech but sensible scheme. The country you apply thorough first checks you are eligible and then sends your details to each of the other countries, as if you had applied directly to them for a visa. Your country then collects all the replies and issues the card. The catch is that this can take 7 weeks (or more for China) , so would not have helped with my Beijing trip.

But there is a bit of high-tech with a web page to check on which countries have approved the application so far. You can then get an Interim Card when you see the country you want to travel to first appear on the list.

One interesting aspect will be to see if APEC add a microchip to the card, a so called "smartcard". This could be a contactless proximity card, using RFID. This would be technically easy to do as there are standards for chip cards and for electronic passports. However, the issue of the security of electronic passports has been controversial and APEC might do best to avoid it. The APEC Business Travel Card uses the same machine readable text as passports and can be read by the same optical scanners as paper passports.

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