Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Visa-palooza, 1984 style.

I have hesitated to write anything here about the current visa crack-downs in China, because, well let's face it: I don't want to be deported.

However enough is enough.

It has been known for some time that the Chinese Government has been restricting the issuing of Student (X) visas, Tourist (L) visas and Business (F) visas, supposedly to maximise security prior to the Beijing Olympics- sometimes cutting down the length of time they are issued for, and at other times refusing to re-issue them at all. Already several of our friends have already been essentially deported (one friend was literally told "You must leave the country within ten days", which left no time to pack up his apartment or even find a new home for his cat).

Now, I understand that many small business people are working illegally on L and F visas, and, while I know it is the only way many people can afford to make a living, it is still illegal. So if you get your visa cancelled then, well, there's not much you can do about it.
Chinese officials "are concerned that certain undesirables may have come into China and may be residing in the foreign community here, and that some of them may represent risks to the Olympics games," said Peter Humphrey, managing director of ChinaWhys Co., a Beijing-based risk-management firm. Mr. Humphrey said the government may also be motivated in part by a desire to improve tax collection by cracking down on foreigners working without permission.
However, recently the police have been waiting outside popular 'hang-outs' for foreigners in Shanghai (supermarkets selling imported products, international schools, etc) and demanding to see their visas. The Chinese government has for years requested that all foreigners carry their passport with them at all times, however, in reality this is just a really good way to lose your documents (not to mention having them- and your identity- fall into the wrong hands of a pick-pocket).

Now the police are not just demanding to see our visas, but actually carting foreigners off to their local police station to check that they have registered with them, as all foreigners must register with the police within 24 hours of landing in China- NOTE: every time you leave China, eg. for a holiday or on business, legally you must re-register when you return. So, even if you have registered with the police before, if the date on the registration papers does not match the last date of entry to China in your passport you can be liable for up to a 5000rmb fine (US$720), and can be detained in police custody for up to 30 days. Many foreigners don't know this, and the police don't tell you when you register with them the first time.*

FOREIGNERS in Shanghai should carry their passports with them for random checks by police, according to the Exit-Entry Administration of the Shanghai Public Security Bureau.
-Shanghai Daily
A spot check is one thing, and although I resent being selected for inspection based only on my skin colour (yes, 'Foreigners' really means 'Caucasians'), my visa is all in order**, so I wouldn't mind too much if they stopped me for that. But being carted off to the police station like a criminal is another thing completely.

And the stories are getting more and more bizarre.

Last week, my friend K*** was on the treadmill, using a guest pass at her friend's gym. The gym is located withing the compound of a very expensive apartment complex in Shanghai, well-known for housing ex-pats with incredible housing packages from their employers. At the time K was the only non-asian-looking person in the gym, and in walked two police officers in full uniform (and with legitimate ID) who proceeded to walk straight up to her.

The police officers questioned K as to her name, address and telephone number. She told them her name and phone number. At this point they told her, in English, that they wanted to "invite her to a party" the next day, and that they would pick her up from her apartment if she'd tell them the address. Thinking that this was more than a bit unusual, K lied and said that she lived in one of the buildings in the complex, but that she'd rather not say which apartment number.

The police officers kept pushing her to tell them: "It's ok, we're police officers, we only want to invite you to a party... we'll take care of you...", but they were talking between themselves in Chinese, saying "It's ok, we have her name and number, we can find out where she lives".

They turned back to K and told her that they would pick her up in the complex at Building #4 at 6pm the next day, and drive her to the party. They also told her to bring her friends. And her passport.

Needless to say, she never turned up.

The real question is why the lies? The police have the power to cart people off for questioning, so why bother with the story?

As Phil said, living in China is starting to feel very slightly reminiscent of a certain World War II regime...

* Although the Arrival card everyone must fill out at customs when they enter China does say "failure to register with the police department within 24 hours of arrival can lead to you being deported", so there is really no argument in your defense.

** For the benefit of Big Brother- I have a Z visa entitling me to live and work in China. And I am registered with my local police station.

*** Name withheld for obvious reasons.


Girl Clumsy said...

Hey Louise.

Thanks for this great piece - it really does sound troubling. One hopes if it is in fact for "the Olympics", it will stop afterwards.

I guess we'll have to wait and see.

I didn't know the rule about registering with police though - when I went to Beijing I never did that. I was there for about six days. Lucky I didn't get a talking to from the police!

Take care.

Louise said...

Thanks Natalie,

Yeah we're hoping (expecting) the chaos to die down after the olympics... fingers crossed.

When you were in Beijing did you stay in a hotel or hostel? If so they registered for you with the local police (you'd fill out a yellow or pink form when you arrive and they make sure it matches your passport details and then submit it). Nice huh?

Girl Clumsy said...

Hey Louise,

Hmmm. I do seem to remember a yellow form. We stayed at a budget hotel...called something like "Home". It was attached to a more glamourous hotel called Rainbow or something like that.

Didn't even realise I'd be cross-checked - wow. Amazing - in all senses of the word.

Cheers, Nat.

PS. I'm glad you like my site makeover! I'm hoping to write more entertainingly too, but that's harder to do... ;)

Philippe Roy (aka. "Phil") said...

"Laowai." It's used so freely. Most often derogatorily to refer to those outsiders, foreigners, in China. They'll tell you it's not a bad word, as much as the N word means black in Spanish, such an innocent word.

Even though the rest of the world is ready (and craving) for China, it makes me wonder if China is ready for the rest of the world.

Jamieson said...

Party my arse :-) We ALL know when the boys come for a 'chat' we call up our closest Chinese associate who is somewhat mature and/or has 'mates' then we all go down to the station with 5-0. I sincerely hope this never happens to any of your readers.