Brian's Blogs

China Visa Red Tape

I have been wondering for some time whether now that China has gained the international element of respectability that it craved for, for so many years, it is now getting somewhat fed up with migrant workers flocking in to its utopian workers’ paradise?

Let me explain… I had been chasing up jobs in the People’s Republic for some six months, and had visited Beijing on tourist visas so as to afford a better chance of someone being interested in offering me work. For, so I reasoned, if I were recruiting for staff, would I seriously consider someone applying from halfway across the world?

My first attempt at finding work in Beijing was badly timed. Although I knew that Chinese New Year was in February, I hadn’t realised that many take their vacations well before the start of the holiday, and so the people I had hoped to cold call weren’t even there! Having said that, on applying for a China visitors’ visa in Dubai, the process could not have been simpler. I took my passport, a photo and the required cash to a travel agency, who even filled out the forms for me; and three days later I was the proud possessor of an ‘L’ visa in my passport.

[An aside here: I also applied for a number of posts online. Some of the adverts didn’t specify the name of the company, but just described what the work involved. I applied to a company in Shanghai and a week or three later got a charming eMail saying they were interested in my CV, and could I take a look at their web site and tell them what my impressions were of it.

So I dutifully typed in and found to my surprise a site which told me that “LELO is a Swedish designer brand that prides itself in offering only the most stylish and luxurious intimate lifestyle accessories.” Or to put it another way, vibrators and sex toys at the top end of the market. I have often thought since then that getting this job would have made my Christmas present list a piece of cake! But, alas, it was not to be.]

The next time I visited Beijing I had to apply for a visa in the UK, as I had by now lost my residency status in the UAE. Apart from the fact that it cost nearly 50% more applying in the UK than it had in the UAE, the process was again relatively pain free.

This time I had to trot over to Manchester (not my favourite city by a long chalk. Why is it that Mancunians as a whole tend to stretch the boundaries to such a ridiculous degree, at least with regards to general scruffiness?). So I trotted over to Chinatown ...

and looked for an agency called Cititravel.

When I finally found it, some 10 minutes walk from Piccadilly station, they couldn’t have been more helpful. Once again, three days later I had another Chinese visa in my passport.

This time my visit coincided with the Tomb Sweeping holiday, although in reality this only affected two of the days I was there, so I was able to cold call and eventually get seen by those I was seeking.

An HR man from what eventually turned out to be my future employer agreed to send me some written tests and I left China once again full of hope. I let him know that once the tests were out the way I would be delighted to pop over to Beijing for another interview if he so desired. (A good move, I reckoned, to show commitment and determination in landing a job).

And so it was that I undertook a third journey to the ‘northern capital’ a few weeks later. I get in touch with the HR guy who tells me that I have passed my written tests and that I will be interviewed by one of the department heads this time around.

I turn up at the appointed hour to find that (a) the department head is a woman and (b) there is another female with her. No problem! Except both are wearing miniskirts and have legs that travel all the way up to their armpits. And we are sitting in seats making up the corners of an equilateral triangle without even the benefit of a coffee table between us.

Now, as all guys will know, it is not at all easy trying to shift one’s eyes away from an attractive woman crossing her legs when those legs travel all the way up to regions unknown. Multiply that by two and this has to be one of the toughest of interview conditions for any red bloodied male.

You force yourself to look away from Female A crossing her legs and you become very aware of trying NOT to look at the legs of Female B, as you would hate her to think you were obsessed with beautiful legs. So instead the male eye comes to rest on the low cut blouse of Female B from which you force yourself to look away, as you don’t want her to sum you up as a tit-man either. So you force yourself to look away from the two of them, as if seeking inspiration in the rafters, or out the window, only to realise that this makes you look as if you aren’t interested in the job being talked about; so you turn back to Female B who has now started to uncross her legs, so you turn back to Female A …. and this continues on as you hopelessly try to concentrate on the searching questions being thrown at you.

Luckily, being a guy who is as pure and innocent as the driven snow, I am able to pass this toughest of interviews and before I know it I am being asked how soon I could actually start work.

The answer is obvious: how soon can I get my Chinese visa?

First things first then. Once back in Dubai I have to pack up the junk I have acquired over the years I have spent in the Middle East and head on back to the UK. I arrive on the Sunday and the next day set off to Manchester once again to submit my passport at the Cititravel agency.

My new employer had eMailed me two documents – an “Invitation Letter of Duly Authorised Unit” and a Working Permit, duly stamped and authorised by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, PRC. These I take with my passport and photograph and filled out visa forms to Cititravel, pay the fee and am promised I will have my new visa in four days time.

Alas, I have just got back to my home in Yorkshire (a three hour journey from Manchester) when I get a phone call telling me that as the Invitation Letter and the Working Permit have been hand written instead of being typed or computer generated, they are inadmissible. I will have to get new forms sent over from China.

Their reasoning is that anyone could have hand written the forms, whereas if they had been filled out by computer then they would be more trustworthy – a dubious argument in my opinion since they had been given the official stamps required before they started their journey.

I eMail to Beijing. I talk on the phone to Beijing. Beijing tell me they will take at least 24 hours to redo the forms and get them authorised and that then they will send them over to the UK. “Don’t worry,” I am told, “you should get them by Friday”.

Friday comes and goes. Saturday comes and goes. Sunday comes and goes. I eMail to Beijing and ask them for the courier tracking number which they duly send back by return. They have used Fedex for the job, who, I am to find out, has first sent the packet to Incheon in Korea from where it is sent to their depot in Guangzhou back in China. From here it has been sent to Almaty in Kazakhstan and thence on to Paris. The next day it clears the English Channel, arriving in Stansted, from where it is sent to Rochdale, near Manchester, and then driven over the Pennines where I receive it five days after it had first been picked up in Beijing.

Without further ado, I rush the package over the Pennines once again to Manchester and present it to my new Chinese friend in Cititravel.

You will now get your visa on Thursday, I am told, only to receive another phone call three hours later as I step off the train in Yorkshire to be told that the smiling picture of your favourite blogger gracing the first page of his visa application is unacceptable.

It appears that it has been printed on matte paper and not on photo glossy paper and so has been rejected. Their thinking, I am told, is that I could have lifted the photograph of anyone off the internet and printed it out using my computer. The fact that the pic matches the timeless efficacy of my passport photo and that I could just have easily printed out an internet picture on glossy paper as I did on matte sways no argument. Another trip to Manchester is now necessary as my Groundhog day starts off once again.

My smiling Chinese friend in Cititravel spies me from afar and greets me as if he has genuinely missed me in the intervening 24 hours, which no doubt he has. I decline his offer of allowing me to pay another £35 for a fast track service, telling him that as I intend to fly on the Sunday, I would be just as happy to pick up the passport on the Friday as I would have, had I picked it up on the Thursday.

Now, in the intervening moments during which I have not been travelling either to or from Manchester, I have looked up on the Qatar Airways web site how to go about using my accumulated Privilege Club Air Miles to fly one way from Manchester to Beijing. There were plenty of places on the first leg of the journey from Manchester to Doha, but alas, no places recorded from Doha to Beijing. But, the web site dedicated to us privileged members of Qatar Airways fan club tells me that Gold Members can still get a guaranteed place by going to any Qatar Airways office. As QR has an office not a dragon’s shake from Cititravel, I duly set off on the marathon five minute journey up the road.

My regular readers will know that as a committed Qatar Airways traveller, I have been somewhat unimpressed recently by the UK operations of the airline. Not only are the British hostesses that they employ on the UK routes they fly to simply not a patch on their Asian counterparts on other routes, but their ground staff in Manchester and Heathrow Airports (and Gatwick too, before they closed that route) are simply dreadful.

Well now, dear reader, I can tell you that their UK booking staff are just as bad – nay, much worse. No, they can’t book me a privilege ticket. Oh, their web site says they can? Oh, let me find out sir. OK, we can book you a ticket, but you will have to fill out a form which we will fax off to Doha and maybe they will get back to you before the weekend. But I want to fly at the weekend! Well we can’t guarantee you a seat but we can take your money now and see if Doha responds.

What crap service! I walk out of their office letting them know in no uncertain terms what I think of them.

Back home I ring up Qatar Airways in Doha myself (using Skype of course, to reduce the cost). We can put in a request for you, sir, but cannot guarantee you a seat for another two days. But your web site says that Gold Members are guaranteed a seat whatever happens! Oh does it sir? Hmmm, we don’t know about that here. Would you like to pay for the ticket and see if you are lucky?

If I’m lucky? Is this a serious airline or a national lottery FGS???

In the end I ring off and book myself a normal paid seat on the airline so that I can at least guarantee to end up in Beijing on the day I am scheduled to. (It so happens that QR is one of the cheapest fares on this route – a full £400 cheaper than the likes of KLM.)

Friday arrives. The phone goes at 12.57, a full two hours earlier than I had been told to pick up the passport. Your passport is now ready, I am told; I assure them that I am on my way to pick it up.

I once more travel over to Manchester; once more shudder at the Mancunians past whom I have to walk to reach Cititravel; once more am greeted like a really long lost friend by the ever-smiling Chinese in the agency; and finally get hold of my visa – my Z-visa which will now allow me to enter China where I will once again surrender my passport in order to apply for a residency permit.

Finally another chapter in my unwritten autobiography comes to a close as my would-be readers turn the page to the start of yet another momentous episode in my chronicle through life. Níhǎo Zhōngguó! Greetings China! Finally I’m on my way!

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