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?