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Navigating China’s Visa Problems and Finding a Mass Murderer

China visas

Forbes just came out with an article, Navigating China’s Visa Problems, on the increasing difficulty in securing a long term China visa and on the impact that is having on foreign entrepreneurs.

The article starts out talking about how in the old days, all one “needed to travel in and out of China for business was a tourist visa,” which enabled you to “live and run businesses in China for decades” by shuttling “back and forth to Hong Kong…every six months or so….” Now, if you are not “appropriately registered, ‘the police could close you down in one day,’ says Dan Harris, an international lawyer based in Seattle who specializes in doing business in China.”

Now here’s the “Finding A Mass Murderer” part of my title. In the Forbes article, the link from my name takes the reader to an article, entitled, “5 bodies, including 3 children, found in northeast Houston,” involving on the scene “Houston police Lt. Dan Harris.” That is not me. This is me.

The article then quotes me as saying the following:

“The Chinese government is pushing to become a nation of laws,” he adds. “One way to do that is by cracking down on foreigners because it increases nationalism, which helps keep the ruling regime in power.”

What I was trying to say here is that China is increasingly becoming a nation of laws and on top of that, it enforces its laws much more strictly against foreigners than against its own people. There has been a run up in Chinese nationalistic sentiment and the government’s cracking down on visa violators is serving them well in winning the hearts and minds of its populace. I see China enforcing its laws to allay the nationalistic sentiments of its people, not necessarily to fan it.

The article nicely sets out the current requirements for obtaining an L or F visa:

Visit the Chinese embassy or consulate-general in the jurisdiction where you live and provide the following information: your passport (with at least six months of remaining validity and at least one blank visa page), a completed application form, one passport photo, round-trip air tickets and hotel reservations. (If applying for an F visa, you must also show your invitation letter.) You could pay a middleman to handle the paperwork, but that would probably take the same amount of time and cost an extra $100 to $200.

Ms. Lindner is right about using middlemen for your visa, but if you live far from a city with a Chinese embassy or consulate, using a middleman is oftentimes well worth it.

18 responses to “Navigating China’s Visa Problems and Finding a Mass Murderer”

  1. Dan,
    Are you serious in claiming “[China] enforces its laws much more strictly against foreigners than against its own people”?
    I have perceived, as seems to be generally perceived by the overall Chinese population as well, that laws and rules are applied too leniently towards foreigners. Too often it is decried that foreign offenders are merely slapped on the wrist and expelled out (some may call that as just let out) of China instead of being punished according to the law.
    So what is the context for your claim?

  2. DJ,
    I think you would have a hard time finding a reasonable person to disagree with me on this, when it comes to business laws. I doubt this is the case with criminal laws, but I don’t know.
    I do know (both from what I hear and from what I read) that foreign companies tend to be much more law abiding when it comes to pay their taxes, paying their employees, abiding by China’s labor laws, abiding by China’s environmental laws, and abiding by China’s IP laws than are Chinese companies and I attribute most of this to the fact that the Chinese government is much tougher in enforcing these laws against foreign companies, as opposed to domestic companies. Indeed, I would bet this is true of every country in the world.

  3. Starting 2 weeks ago, our US office which uses the China embassy in Washington to get visas, ran into trouble getting F visas. Previously they were happy with a letter of invitation from our SZ rep office. Now they wanted an authorization letter from the SZ office (China Foreign Ministry). And they want copies of all the office paperwork, chops, etc. And a 1-2 week delay in supplying the approval / form. That is before the embassy in US will even review the visa application.

  4. Dan: Sorry to hear times are so tough that you are having to moonlight doing police work. Seriously, our apologies for the inappropriate link. These are machine generated, as you know. We’ll try to get it removed as soon as possible. Again, apologies.
    Paul Maidment, Editor,

  5. China has all sorts of laws, but no real intention of bending to the rule of law. If the authorities can’t follow their own constitution they certainly don’t care about following lower level laws and regulations. Law in China is for the convenience of the party in support of its own aims.

  6. Dan,
    Come to think of it, I kinda expected your answer and I don’t doubt about your description within the business law context.
    Would you apply your characterization of “foreign companies tend to be much more law abiding” evenly to all of them? I have read about complaints of business men/women from some certain country being known for evading tax, abusing employees, and/or disappearing without paying salaries of workers. Living in the US, I don’t know how true such stories are and would really like to hear your perceptions.

  7. Paul,
    No worries. I at first was a bit worried when I saw the headline that “Dan Harris” was going to be the killer, but I have certainly been described as worse things than a police officer. Plus, it allowed me to throw a little twist into my title.

  8. JD,
    Yes and no. There comes a point where laws can take on a mind of their own and enforcement all but has to occur or the people will mutiny. That’s one of the beauties of laws.

  9. I would not say that is true across the board. I hesitate to name countries, but I certainly have heard of some countries whose companies tend not to pay workers, etc. and I have heard this often enough and from enough very credible people to believe this.
    I do not think it is so much a function of morality or honesty so much as a function of the kind of company and, probably most importantly, business sophistication. Companies that plan on staying around a long time tend to pay their bills and follow the law. In my firm’s own practice, we have been working with Russian companies long enough to have seen a real evolution. Fifteen years ago, things were bad. Today, they are not bad at all.

  10. Chas,
    I completely agree with you that businesspeople should never have been using tourist visas to enter China. I never said they should have been and, in fact, as a lawyer, whenever our clients would ask if it is okay to do so, I would always give a long lecture on the importance of always following the law, but I would then have to add (to avoid looking like an idiot) that the reality is that many do this and very few are caught. Let he who has never jaywalked throw the first visa.
    I did not suggest it is a response to nationalism so much as that nationalism is one of the primary reasons why I do not see anything much changing after the Olympics.

  11. I think it’s a bit of a stretch for either Dan Harris to link the visa tightening to nationalism. How many Chinese citizens are out there protesting the presence of foreigners working on F visas rather than Z visas? How many even know what these two visas are?
    I’m inclined to take Chinese officials at their word, that the recent tightening is about security concerns related to the Olympics, and will mostly be reversed after the Olympics.

  12. Could be one day, Dan, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be the party’s intent. I’ll reconsider when Chinese citizens are able to claim the rights guaranteed under the CCP’s constitution, until then it’s just smoke and mirrors. For now money and power continue to win out over law, by far.

  13. …round-trip air tickets and hotel reservations…
    A bit off topic, but since this is mentioned above…
    I haven’t used an actual paper ticket in years. Is a printout of an emailed confirmation of an e-ticket enough?
    And is a round-trip ticket to Hong Kong enough, or is one now forced to fly directly to a mainland city?
    As for the hotel reservation, is a printout of a reservation made online (for example, through Ctrip) enough?
    Any insights would be much appreciated!

  14. I can’t figure out the comments on the forbes article from sb that has a 5 year chinese visa, i’ve 4000 people on my mailing list (power networker) in beijing and all from business cards of people i’ve met. I’ve been her 4 years and never met anyone with a 5 year visa… must be from hk?
    I’ve many people say they have had problems with even tourist visas from usa with all paperwork.
    the hotels are less than 70% full for olympics, and all the foreigners that have to go back to own country to apply for a visa and then claim hotel rooms to get in when they rent or own apt are saying they are leaving and never coming back.
    also top visa agent who recently spoke at EU chamber visa meeting said it will not be changed back after olympics…
    now i can go and get 3 month visa in hk and then still must leave the country every 30 days, a bit of a high cost… or get married is the other choice for easy visas 😉
    oh well, the people left standing will profit more i guess.

  15. The news is that issues with visas are temporary. Problem will go away after the Olympics.
    True there are extra charges and requirements for U.S. Passports, but that’s just reciprocal from treatment of Chinese nationals getting a U.S. Visa.

  16. Truly I was disappointed in china’s attitude and behaviour towards the foreigners before, during and after the Olympics. Why all these hassles and treatments given to the foreign people?
    Well, I have gained job teaching opportunity but I am afraid because you can’t predict the behaviour and the attitude of Chinese people so I don’t know what to do? May be, I will go to South Korea for similar job.
    I am really disappointed. Information reaching us show that they have arrested many foreigners (wai guo ren). why all these?
    Please, chinese poeple the world is now a global village and it is high time we respected the human rights. This world is passing away gradually, Jesus is coming soon so please, try to refrain from all unlawful things.
    With the issue of visa, please be flexible and know that we are all one no matter how you feel your country is and I bet you can’t be like Americans.

  17. Hello!
    My wife and i are going to shanghai ,my wife will be teaching at one of the expats schools and they will be giving her Z visa and i am on that as a spouse, and i want to start an export business
    Do you have any thought on this ?
    Thanks for reading
    Best regards
    John Yalowica

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