China Visa Hell, Chapter 278

China visas

BizCult has posted on what is becoming a much more frequent occurrence in China: an encounter with Chinese police over a visa issue. The post is entitled You Are Big Brother’s Keeper [link no longer exists] and it starts out with what we lawyers call “factual background.”

Kyle came to China eight months ago on a tourist visa because such visas were (eight months ago anyway) easy to get. Upon arriving in China, Kyle did not stay in a hotel, which stay would have caused him to meet the requirement that he register his residence within 24 hours upon arriving in China. Instead, he stayed on a friend’s couch for a couple weeks. Kyle then found an apartment, registered with the local police station and paid a 500 Yuan fine for his two weeks of “floating” in China without registering. Kyle thinks this put the first “red flag” on his file.

So a cop is now calling Kyle wanting to know why Kyle has not re-registered with his new visa, because surely his initial tourist visa has expired. The cop also wants to know why Kyle failed to come back and re-register after he left the country for a week for Chinese New Years? Okay, and people, please be honest with me here, but how many of you know you are required to re-register under these circumstances? I am guessing around 5%.

The cop tells Kyle’s Chinese speaking roommate that Kyle must go to the police office the next day “to pay some fines.” Kyle gets some “helpful tips from locals” who suggested he go in “very meekly and apologetically to the office” and he ends up being let off with a warning and “some gruff reminders.”

Based on this experience, Kyle now graces us with the following helpful tips:

  • When in doubt, register with the local station. And then register again. When anything in your status changes, from visa to phone number to address to just-back-from-holiday, it is always a good idea to let the authorities know (as creepy as that seems).
  • Do not attempt to fight back (too hard). The sentiment of the authorities seems to be tilting in the direction of contempt of foreigners who think they can do whatever they want. When I suggested to Mr. Officer I was never told that I should re-register upon re-entering the country, I was shown the “Arrival Card” that everyone fills out at customs that states in fine print something to the effect of “failure to register with the police department within 24 hours of arrival can lead to you being deported.” Point taken

I have some additional advice based on having spent nearly my entire career having to deal with all sorts of governments and courts and having dealt with countless sticky visa issues all over the world, including the following:

  • Being held up for 24 hours at the border into Greece from Turkey in a train where the air conditioning has been turned off and where the Greek police every so often ask you why you wanted to go to Turkey in the first place. Trust me, there is no good answer to that question.
  • Running into someone you know only because the two of you attend the same tiny college in Iowa on a train going from the Netherlands to France and then having the police come in, search this person, find a small quantity of pot and then because of this seek to block you from returning to France where you are spending your semester abroad.
  • Going into England when England’s economy is in the complete toilet and being held at the border by a bunch of Brit immigration thugs who are insisting you are coming there to get a job. Having to recover from being so young and stupid that you make clear that you from the United States where “we actually have jobs” and that with all the countries in the world that are capable of actually creating enough jobs for their own citizens, nobody with an IQ over 70 would be trying to get into England for a job.
  • Being detained/arrested by the police in Vladivostok, Russia at 11 pm for not having a visa for that particular city.
  • Securing a US Federal Court order to stop a flight leaving Anchorage, Alaska, for Magadan, Russia, after it had already started taxiing on the runway. The order came down before the taxiing (of course) but we did not serve it on the airline until the plane containing our 60 or so Russian clients who were being deported had already left the gate.

My advice is as follows (yes, I know some of it is really basic, but please bear with me):

  • Know the law and follow it, not what someone tells you they heard someone else get away with. There are murderers who never get caught, but that does not make it legal nor does it mean you will get away with it. Want to know the law? The best way is to read the webpage of your embassy or consulate or chamber of commerce and to talk to people at your embassy or consulate. Or hire a lawyer who deals in this arena every day.
  •  Keep a copy of your visa and your passport with you at all times. Make sure everything is current.
  • Be civil. Be respectful. Keep your cool. Tell the truth. If you get caught in a lie you are done. Done. Do not make jokes and especially do not make jokes about China. Do not act arrogantly. Act respectfully (I am intentionally being repetitive). Make the job of the authorities easier, not more difficult. Just remember, the people in front of you are just doing their jobs and no matter what you do, your actions that day will not advance democracy or human rights or any other ideal one iota further in China.
  • If nothing seems to be working, ask if you can call your embassy, your consulate, your lawyer, your Chinese joint venture partner, or anyone else you think might be able to help you. Immigration people in every country of which I am aware have amazing flexibility. They are human beings. Give them a reason to cut you a break. This does NOT mean paying a bribe, which has the very real potential of getting you in worse trouble than being deported.
  • If you think you might have China visa issues down the road, deal with them now. Start your application, find the right lawyer, talk to your embassy or consulate. Whatever. Just do not wait.

Any other ideas, people?

29 responses to “China Visa Hell, Chapter 278”

  1. “..but how many of you know you are required to re-register under these circumstances? I am guessing around 5%”
    And ignorance is a defence?

  2. Your embassy and consulate can NOT help you. The law is the law and if you fail to fulfill the requirements its not their problem its yours – they will simply tell you to check with the Entry and Exit Authority for your local city, or Chinese consulate etc.
    The only thing they can help you with are issues like replacing a lost passport and suddenly having all your identity linked to your previous passport number which has disappeared into the ether. In those situations they may issue you with a letter or document with their stamp to link both numbers to your person.
    Of course the fact you make the call in the visa officers presence might help you with the visa officer, prove your bonafides perhaps, but that said the embassy or consulate will not be able to offer any support if its a black and white you didn’t bother to find out all the rules (even when the rules are mayhem!)

  3. I do not have any ideas as to how you can solve these Visa related problems. Your blog raised a red-flag to my own behavior. As a former Chinese citizen, I have been of the habit to “go back to my own country” every time I visited China. I never registered with anybody and went straight “home”. Now come to think of it, I probably broke a million rules.
    I should follow the rules next time.

  4. “The sentiment of the authorities seems to be tilting in the direction of contempt of foreigners who think they can do whatever they want.”
    Ordinary Chinese share the same sentiments. See, the Olympics are a good thing. It wakes people up from their wide-eyed innocence about the characters they are dealing with in the world. Finally the Chinese are “getting it”.
    As for visa and big brother, nobody surpasses the United States. Every time I go back to China I have to get a new visa coming back to the US. You have to call the embassy a month ahead to make an appointment. And you have to pay them to just call them and make an appointment. I am glad my country is reciprocating the courtesy.
    Another courtesy that needs urgent reciprocation is the American big brother calling me an “resident alien”. They even gave me an alien registration number. Why don’t you call me martian? Foreigners in China must be called aliens too. Stop calling them expats or laowais.

  5. “Going into England when England’s economy is in the complete toilet and being held at the border by a bunch of Brit immigration thugs who are insisting you are coming there to get a job. Having to recover from being so young and stupid that you come from the United States where “we actually have jobs” and that with all the countries in the world that are capable of actually creating enough jobs for their own citizens, nobody with an IQ over 70 would be trying to get into England for a job.”
    I’m guessing this line of reasoning went over like a ton of bricks with Her Majesty’s Customs, although I have to admit, they seem to make a point out of hassling Americans. A friend of mine almost got barred from entering the country, but then that might have been because his ex-girlfriend had written “Die you son of a *****!” in the middle of it.
    If it’s any consolation, both my parents and my sister were almost barred entry to the US at LAX. My sister because the US embassy given her the wrong form and, this being after work hours, nobody at the university she was due to post-doc at could be reached, my parents because they were going to stay with my sister, but didn’t have her address and said as much to the immigration official. They only got through because my sister overheard an official talking about them on the other side of the gate and came and gave her address – the immigration people at the airport had refused to page her on the tannoy.
    The US economy might not be in quite the state than the UK economy was in the late 70’s/early 80’s, but right now Brits aren’t exactly flocking to find work in the land of opportunity as you might say (although it’s a great place to go for a cheap holiday right now) so these controls make absolutely no sense. The insistance on giving each person an interview, for example, makes it almost impossible for large groups like orchestras to be able to afford a trip to the states, and the fingerprinting of all visitors smacks of a police state.
    The new strictness in Chinese visa regulations, to be fair, is only the mirror image of tightening in the regulations of many other countries. I guess care-free travel is going the way of metal cutlery on aeroplanes and dust-bins on the underground, and it’s a damn shame.

  6. I think all the advice you’ve offered is all quite correct and very useful. And it should be followed religiously by everyone. I only would add a couple of thoughts:
    I ran across an interesting book many years ago (probably mainly intended for criminals and fugitives) (and I am very happy to say very truthfully that I have never been either one) called “P.T.” which stood for “Prepared Thoroughly” and “Perpetual Tourist”, just as one preferred.
    And I thought it was a pretty good book.
    Among other things it recommended always having a packed small suitcase at a friend’s apartment with in it, a valid passport, an open airline (and boat, and train) ticket out of the country and a minimum of 10K in cash. It also recommended not keeping any of one’s money that one wasn’t ready to kiss good bye in either one’s country of citizenship, or of residence or of work. (this was about 20 years ago and so one would have to correct the 10K for inflation).
    But without going to such an extreme – although under certain “country risks” or “political risk” scenarios and circumstances maybe it would not be that bad advice even for non-criminals….
    …there is still one other bit of very generic advice that I think also could be quite useful for “very normal people” And that is, don’t be stubborn and want to stick it out in one place no matter what; never try to swim upstream; go with the right flows; and move over to the next place or river whenever circumstances seem to call for it. (and don’t wait until the big S. hits the fan) (that is when Jing Jing starts packing too much heat, get out)
    What this means in practical terms is that if you want to have fun with women go live in Brazil or in Thailand. If you want to start a business and make some money go to the U.S. If you like museums, great works of art and appreciate history and culture, go live in Florence or Venice or Rome. And if you like learning about different political and economic systems in transition go and live in China. (and a few years ago in East Germany and in a few more years in North Korea)…But whatever you do…..DO NOT try to do those very same things in the wrong countries at the wrong times.
    And for those adventurous souls who like to swim counter-current anyway or just for the hell of it, that’s also quite o.k. but make sure you’re as smart and as brave and as tough as you like to think you are.

  7. Sinosceptic,
    There are certain legal truisms that apply nearly across the board everywhere. One of them is that ignorance is no defense. I just remarked on the fact that hardly anybody (probably) knows about the re-registration requirement to show how difficult it is to stay up on the law and how easy it is to get sideways with it.

  8. Waz,
    I completely agree with you and I completely disagree with you and I think you misunderstood me. How’s that for a lawyer sentence?
    The law is the law and if you violate the law your embassy/consulate will almost certainly not even try help in your defense and even if they did, it would be very unlikely to have any impact. But, when I was encouraging people to get help from their embassy/consulate, I was referring to getting help with things like knowing what the law is and just basic logistics like calling mom for a toothbush.

  9. bianxiangbianqiao,
    I know the US is not easy, but get over the alien thing. That word (I think) has been used to refer to foreigners well before it began being used to refer to space people. It certainly is not meant to convey disrespect.

  10. FOARP,
    That did make me feel a little bit better. Thanks. And no, her Majesty’s customs people did not like me until I came to the realization that some punk US college student was not going to muscle his way into the country and I had better start acting nice. I did eventually get in anyway and despite all that I rank England as one of the greatest places on earth.

  11. Worldly Robert,
    Thanks for the quite worldly advice.
    When I would go to Russia (where acceptance of credit cards was even rarer than in China), I would always be sure to carry enough cash to function for 3 days minimum AND to get a flight to Korea.

  12. After the new Chinese Entry Card was released I have been twice to China (Luckily before all this Visa paranoia strated). We have a company flat in Dongguan area so I don’t register in a hotel.
    Both times I have asked my Chinese friends and suppliers what shall I do with my Entry Card and if I should go register to the police. Their answer has always been the same, don’t you go to the Police, they are dangerous and the only thing you will get is trouble.
    I did not register any of the times and I have to say that i did not have any single problem leaving the country afterwards but I am a bit worried about what shall I do next time I get there.
    Can I have problems leaving? I guess not because the entry card doesn’t have an entry stamp like they do in the US or Brazil (Where losing it means a visit to the inmigration office before while your plane is leaving)
    I guess I can only have trouble if the police stops me and asks me for my passport, but it has never happened to me. Has the situation changed so much that I should be really careful about this?

  13. qwerty,
    Hard to say. The situation has definitely changed. Co-blogger Steve Dickinson (who has been living in China off and on for about 30 years) tells me that he now carries his passport with him, which was something he had not been doing for years.

  14. @Dan
    I’ve still never been to the States, but even of those of my friends who are most anti-US have all said it is one of the most friendly and welcoming places they have visited. However, even the most pro-American of the people I know felt offended by the whole interview (which is scheduled at the pleasure of the US embassy), fingerprint and immigration treatment. It is a pity that people are being turn off by America’s “Ugly” exterior before they get a chance to redress this impression by seeing the real America.
    @Bianxiangbianqiao –
    If you object to the use of the term ‘alien’ – write a letter to the US state department. The worst thing that can happen is that they ignore it. ‘Alien’ in this circumstance does simply mean ‘foreign’, but it is a somewhat ugly word whatever its basic meaning is. Surely they could change it to ‘foreign national’ or other such.
    As for meting out the same treatment to the US that they give other folk, consider that since the changes to the visa regime British visitors to the US are down by more than ten percent (even with the favourable exchange rate) – why would any other country want to follow the US in shooting itself in the foot like this?
    @Sinosceptic – Ignorance being no excuse is, as Jacobs LJ likes to say, “trite law”, but it is definitely not true when a professional is giving advice. If a professional gives advice where it would be reasonable for him to expect you to act on that advice and you suffer damage as a result of acting on it then that professional may be held liable.
    Why else do people hire lawyers? It gives you someone to sue if things goes wrong!
    Not that the thought of suing the people who got you into trouble will give you much comfort whilst rotting in some jail cell, but still . . .

  15. FOARP,
    It is a great country and you have to come and if you come you have to come to Seattle….
    The US has chosen “security” over dollars but I its visa process does piss off just about everyone. Maybe a year after 9-11, I went to dinner with a good friend and client from Korea (he was at the time the Seattle general manager of a Korean chaebol), a Korean attorney with whom I have been friends for about ten years, and a Korean law student at the University of Washington law school. The Korean lawyer had just come to town that day, on business and on vacation with his family and he had been held up at the airport for about three hours and he was swearing never to return to the US again. This guy is now a senator in Korea and he was one of the most pro-US people I have ever known as is my friend from the chaebol. Everyone was describing how horrible getting through US customs can be and they used words like humiliating to describe it. Again, these are extremely pro-US people from a country with whom the US has excellent relations. I completely believe them and it is a shame in that we need to be making friends not enemies.
    Despite all this, come.

  16. @ QWERTY from GFDSA
    …the older bottom line (holding up the sky and trying to have the last word just under your own) ) is that it’s much better to always have your passport on you….or a copy of it that’s been stamped by somebody and that looks official-looking enough…until the folks who want to talk to you… can see your real one in your hotel safety-box ….or stuck at the bottom of your backpack in the dirty clothes bag….or wherever….
    I was traveling together with Wordly Robert in the old USSR once and Boris and Natasha both out of uniform thought I was talking to the wrong people hanging around the middle of Red Square. In fact they were only a couple of friendly Algerian students but we were speaking French instead of Russian and so were plotting the French Revolution and the reign of terror or worse yet ….just imagining Glasnost and Perestroika…and since I couldn’t even say Spassiba they wanted to take me in for questioning.
    But when I showed them my “official copy of my passport” they settled for just walking over with me to the Russia Hotel down the road to see the real one with my Helsinki Intourist visa in it.
    By then some low level KGB flunky interpreter also was called in on the walkie talkie and had shown up and so the whole thing was cleared up and ended up nice and friendly over a warm bowl of Borscht at a hole in the wall restaurant just off The Square. During which time I also made sure to let them all know just how bad I thought the U.S. was being to Uncle Ho….and soon after that my cute Intourist guide also showed up….(right on the button) and so I was free to continue looking around all of the really cool buildings and museums around the Kremlin for another couple of days…(and of course I paid my personal respects to Lenin)
    This was during the “good old days” around 1970….and right after People’s Park in Berkeley, when you could cross all the way down through the USSR from Leningrad to Yerevan (after first hitch-hiking it across the States from San Fran to N.Y.C to catch that cheap Icelandic flight over to Luxembourg)
    And after landing and then checking out some Mermaids up in Copenhagen one could head up to Helsinki on the Eurail pass to then head down by Soviet train stopping over in all of the cities along the way from the Finnish border and on down (Leningrad, Moscow, Kiev, Rostov-on-Don, Tiblisi, etc.) and for just as long as one liked and could pay for in advance in cash dollars (provided you also let Intourist know in advance and they could send someone to meet you as you stepped on to the platform off the train at the railway station)
    …. and then one could enter Iran from the north, hop down to Teheran, (the Shah couldn’t give a damn) cross Iran heading east on some magic double decker London bus that you had picked up in the tourist area of East Teheran …and that had started out in Earl’s Court and was packed with friendly Aussies all low on money heading home….come into Kandahar, take a bath… and then make it up north to Kabul to really relax before you either headed over to Goa or up to Mazar-i-Sharif…(no Talibans and no liberators then) or if you too were getting low on cash, head back over to the Greek Islands before bee-lining it up to Luxembourg on your last dime to catch the Icelandic flight back to N.Y.C….. to close the loop by hitching it back over to Berkeley while visiting all your friends along the way getting PhD’s at the mid-western universities and avoiding getting drafted….
    Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end….(but they did)… but now we can all log on to My Space instead or start up our own businesses in China. But the World can and should NEVER stand still and it’s up to those who are Worldly (of whatever age) to make it livable and fun and…worth it.

  17. @ Bianxiangbianqiao :
    The courtesy is already reciprocated. If you like I can show you my Chinese “Alien Employment Permit”…

  18. bureaucrats are the same everywhere and having lived internationally for over 27 years, my biggest pet peeve is immigration officials no matter what country they belong to.
    The folks they have working for INS in the US are universally fat, most likely corrupt,lazy, and poorly educated in my opinion (white trash!!). My wife still maintains her Singaporean citizenship and has had terrible troubles at the US border even though both her children and her husband are US citizens. I really think these people live to make trouble for innocents and get a kick out of it.
    I am about to go to the US for two weeks for my son’s graduation from college, does this mean I have to take a taxi to the local police station on returning and re-register my living in my residence of 10 years? and speaking of senseless trouble, my kids are not even allowed to come “home” to where they grew up, for the summer as they are over 18 years old and have to travel to China on tourist visas, and are now scrambling for places to stay in the USA when their obtained in time for Xmas vacation 2 month tourist visa’s expire. Are they extend able? no-one knows.
    Many good friends of mine (real China hands) are leaving China and giving up on living here because of all this new enforcement. Sad times indeed.

  19. Excellent post sir (though it may seem to be common sense for someone of your background).
    I am of the opinion that more rule of law in China is essentially a good thing, even if it mildly inconveniences us laowais.
    I live in Shanghai, and I can’t tell you how many of my friends here and in Beijing have complained to me about the “new” rules that I have been following all along. In my opinion, if it is written down as law, you should do your best to follow it (it’s not as if these visa regs are particularly difficult to comprehend). We are still guests in this country, remember.

  20. Yeah. US is great, to that I agree. That’s why I am sticking around despite all the hurt to my tender Chinese feelings. The longer I stay here the more I feel that Americans are just like the Chinese. Both are defensive. At the same time both are mean and good at insulting people. I have just got another insulting piece of paperwork from uncle Sam. It is called “advanced parole”. No I am not a criminal temporarily out of prison. This piece of paper will allow me to come in and out of US without visa. It sounds real bad. But at least I can go back and have fist fights with any laowai who dares to unfurl a freaking banner in the great TAM square.

  21. Tyler:
    I think your post fundamentally misunderstands what ‘rule of law’ is relative to what is happening in China with the visa rules. One of the fundamental elements of the classical conception of the rule of law is freedom from the arbitrary exercise of power.
    What has happened with the visa rules is a classic illustration of a Chinese strategy for retaining discretionary power in the face of clear black-letter law. The idea is, the law says clearly what is permissible, but the law isn’t strictly applied. This leaves considerable slack, which can be taken up at any moment, for political, or any other reasons, as has happened recently with the visa rules.
    Reserving administrative power in this way is the absolute opposite of ‘rule of law’.

  22. “The idea is, the law says clearly what is permissible, but the law isn’t strictly applied.”
    The next time anyone mentions the progress China has made in indvividual rights please mention this fact to them. Much of the information that is accessible on the internet, much of the relative freedom of speech that is exercised by the populace, in fact much of the progress of the last twenty years, could be wiped out over-night if the government actually sought to enforce the letter of the law.

  23. I would like to also weigh in to agree with Ed above and also try to elaborate his good arguments a bit further.
    “Rule of Law” cannot just mean the rule of ANY law. It means the rule of those laws that are fair, reasonable, equitable and “intrinsically lawful” by whatever other higher-order criteria. Otherwise Hitler’s Laws would be just as good as those of modern-day “Nobel and also reasonably Noble” Norway and the application or enforcement of each would enjoy the same legitimacy.
    For instance, the high “legitimacy” of the “laws” that are right now undoubtedly being applied in Burma; and of course this can only infuriate honest people when they are told by tyrants, despots, dictators and assorted other criminals -all experts in exercises in deception- that they are just “applying the country’s laws”. (Indeed!) (and by the Chinese that national “sovereignty” always should be respected) (and particularly that of dictators)
    And I think this absence of a set of more specific and agreed upon criteria and indicators is also one of the problems involved in applying other broader “generic frameworks” such as those promoted by the World Bank regarding so called “good governance”.
    “Good governance” has been taken (or defined) to mean (roughly) as there existing the following sorts of characteristics of “government” and of “society” in any given country:
    “Rule of Law”, accountability, transparency, a public administration that is relatively free of corruption, freedom of the press, human rights, an active civil society, and a few other such “generic variables”
    But unless these generic variables are much better specified in terms of what they actually mean and don’t mean in specific cases and instances, they can be interpreted as existing and as applying nearly anywhere.
    If you were to ask the Chinese government they would tell you (with a straight face) that each and every one of the above characteristics or variables of course exist and are alive and well in their country, society and government.
    But are they? Is this really true?
    And what about all of the good “Western Democracies” preaching to Africa? Would they pass historical (or even present) muster on a set of fairly applied operational indicators? Or is it often a case of the pot calling the kettle black?
    And so what further specific agreed benchmarks or criteria or indicators are needed to discuss such things honestly? And does everyone accept such operational indicators as defined by organizations such as Transparency international, or Amnesty international and the like?
    I think we do not have an accepted common language and vocabulary about such matters which makes meaningful dialogue even more difficult than it otherwise would be.
    But let’s at least try not to work overtime to prove George Orwell right. (even though he clearly was)

  24. I find it funny that American’s can go to another country and not follow the rules …..THEN claim to be a victim. Did this person do no research before going to China? No, because he is an AMERICAN and should be treated differently than any one else! Americans can take over other people’s countries, spread religion in countries that does not want it, take advantage of poor countries who need the jobs and money. I love it when Americans write blogs about issues they don’t understand and expect the rest of us that follow the rules to feel sorry for them. It is posted everywhere that he must sign in with the Police. I am wondering if this person can read!!!! When you look at the Chinese Embassy website it mentions it there. If his roommate is Chinese then he was told he must sign in with the police.
    My thought is the Chinese police should have tossed up a red flag and this guy is trouble. He can’t follow the rules and should be sent home. The Chinese are very nice and allowed him to stay. Now, there is a blog about how terrible things were.
    The fact is he was wrong and did not do research. He broke the rules. If you break the rules in the US you will be punished. Now, why is China any different? It is not.
    Get over yourself and stay in the US. Then we don’t have to read such stupid blogs about victims that don’t exist!!!!!

  25. JULIA,
    The whole point of my post was that one must know and follow the rules, everywhere, so on that we agree. But for you to make it seem this whole thing is American is over the top. I know countless Europeans and Asians who have faced these same sorts of problems in China and elsewhere and I don’t see how or why this brought on an anti-American rant, but thanks for letting us know you hate more than 300 million people you don’t even know.

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