My blog posts about visas probably generate more e-mails from random strangers than anything else. This suggests to me that a lot of people are out there scouring the internet for more info on the subject, so I’ll share a bit more. In the past two weeks, I have been involved, to some extent, with 5 Chinese visa applications: three to the USA, one to Japan, and one to Thailand.
It’s been a while since my wife and I had to go through the visa ordeal. Now we’re married, and we want to take her parents with us this summer so they can see Florida as well. We were a bit worried that it would seem like the whole family was trying to immigrate to the US, but all three of them got their visas.
Some relevant details:
– My father-in-law has been to the USA once before in 1992; my mother-in-law has never left China
– My in-laws own property in Shanghai and have savings
– My wife was in the USA last in 2005
I haven’t been to Japan in close to five years, and my wife and I have been meaning to make a trip for a while. We finally settled on this May, but realized we had a visa problem: the typical Chinese tourist to Japan must go with a tour group and stay with the group the whole time. I refused to do that, and my wife didn’t want to either. We wanted to hang out in the Kyoto/Nara/Osaka area and take it easy, rather than the typical tour’s “10 cities in 5 days” approach. If we didn’t want to go on a tour, though, we would have to get my wife’s visa “sponsored.”
The process is kind of complicated, so I won’t go into it to much here [Chinese link, Japanese link], but the bottom line is that your Japanese friend needs to supply a lot of paperwork, including:
1. Proof of a relationship with the Chinese visa applicant
2. Acceptance of responsibility if the Chinese visitor remains in Japan illegally
3. Lots of personal information, including tax information
In the end, our visa application failed because our visa sponsor filled out the form with all the tax information but didn’t include full information for their income history. After several mail exchanges between China and Japan (faxes are no good for this procedure), we were already cutting it close time-wise with our application, and we didn’t have enough time to fix the last problem.
Really, though, we didn’t want to fix the last problem! My former homestay family was so nice about sponsoring my wife and filling out all the paperwork — even including their tax information — and I really did not want to ask for even more personal financial information. It just doesn’t seem right. I’m close to my former Japanese homestay family, and they attended our wedding in Shanghai, but asking for someone’s tax and income information is just not cool. What a shitty passive-aggressive way for the Japanese government to discourage Chinese tourism.
This week I’ve been busy gathering paperwork so I can (1) go all the way back to the U.S. to get my new work visa, and (2) graduate for real, like… for real. (And you thought passing the defense was enough? Nope, sorry… Not nearly enough red tape to make it final.)
I’m not too bitter about visa inconveniences brought on by the Olympics. It’ll be good to see my family and take a decent-length vacation from work (a vacation where I have no thesis to work on).
One of my American co-workers has been trying really hard to get to the Olympics this summer, but I can’t stay far enough away. With all the hype and over-the-top emotional build-up, I can’t imagine the Olympics in Beijing turning out better than a half-victory. Lots of things are bound to go wrong, but many will go right.
What I want to know is: after all this is over, what proportion of this country is going to scratch its collective head and wonder, what were we thinking?
Remember how my visa went 144 days overdue, then when I got it renewed, I only got a 2 month visa? Well, I got my new passport, then I finally got my new visa. Today. Looks like I’ll never need to apply for a student visa again. For me, that is a satisfying conclusion.
Speaking of satisfying conclusions, I’ll soon be able to put closure soon on another story I once told here on this blog. Can anyone guess which one it is? (No, it has nothing to do with me getting married.)
Of course, the real satisfying conclusion will be when ChinesePod finally launches V3. It has been extremelybusy these past two weeks, and it’s not quite over yet…
I recently took a look at my passport and discovered that my student visa was expired. Long expired. It had expired on September 15th, 2006.
As you can imagine, I kind of freaked out a little at first. My wife is here. My home is here. My job is here. What if they bust in and drag me away, kicking and screaming, for my egregious visa overstay? Seemed plausible.
I was kinda pissed at East China Normal University. They handle my visa. They never even mentioned anything about visa renewal to me. I talked to them, and they claimed they had called me and/or e-mailed me about it (they did neither), and that if I really never heard from them, then maybe I somehow slipped through the cracks when they switched from the old system to the new networked system. I suspect me being one of the few foreign grad students played a factor as well. Anyway, all this was kind of irrelevant, because at the end of the day, I alone am responsible for making sure I have a valid visa. It’s right there in my passport. I may be busy, but I must watch that expiration date.
So how was it resolved? The school wrote a letter for me saying I was a great student and to please be lenient when fining me. They gave me the form with signature and seal that I needed for the new study visa. They also told me that I was facing a maximum fine of 5000 RMB. (That’s about US$644.)
I think I’m officially a student of ECNU/华师大 now. On Wednesday I did two important things: I paid one year’s tuition out of my hard-earned Shanghai savings (21,777 rmb — ouch!) and I put through my student visa paperwork.
Unfortunately, they say they still can’t tell me how many classes/credits I’ll have my first semester, or which ones. I have to wait until registration on September 5th to learn that. I can’t even talk to my new adviser about it because he’s still on vacation. Classes start Sepember 12th.
My passport with new student visa will be delivered to my doorstep on August 17th. That’s gonna cost me 850 rmb, I believe (400 rmb for each semester, plus a ripoff 50 rmb for delivery). I’ll need that two days later to fly to Changchun, where I’ll be attending John B‘s wedding on the 20th. (Congrats to him!) I’ll be doing the overnight train thing back, leaving on the 21st and arriving in Shanghai on the 22nd.
The interview appointment time was 8:30am. We were both nervous, worried we’d forget something, worried all the work would be for nothing. Here is our checklist of things to take:
– The four forms, two with attached photos
– The receipt for the 830 rmb application fee
– Her passport, national ID card, and official employee identification
– The “proof of intent to return to China dossier”
In addition, I had to take my bookbag so that she could give me her purse, cell phone, and watch before going in. You’re not allowed to take in bags, cell phones, or cameras, and the less metal you’ve got on your body, the simpler it is for you when you go in.
We got to the Isetan building on Nanjing Xi Road at about 8:10am. The building was not officially open, but one of the side entrances was. It had this sign in front of it:
Leading up to the sign (see it at the left?) was a really long line:
It didn’t take long to figure out how the system worked. The “appointment times” did not need to be kept at all. They were simply a means of distributing applicants throughout the day. Those with an appointment at 8:00am arrived the earliest and got in line. Whether they had their actual interview at 8:00am was irrelevant.
Everyone had to wait in line outside because there were too many people to wait inside. It wouldn’t be worth the Consulate’s time to argue with each person that they’d arrived too early, so they simply make all applicants wait outside and come in on first come first serve basis. Who comes first is indirectly controlled by the Consulate through appointment time. You have to wait in line outside because without the special card that you receive from the guy at the head of the line, you can’t get into the Consulate.
We waited in line from 8:15 am until 10:00 am. Fortunately it wasn’t too hot.
We were at the front of the next group to be admitted, so my girlfriend didn’t have to wait in the second line outside the Consulate on the 8th floor. It was there that I said goodbye and wished her luck (I wasn’t allowed to accompany her). Since she had submitted her form online and had the barcode already on her form, she was admitted immediately.
While I went upstairs to the movie theater lobby to study for my exam, my girlfriend was waiting in yet another line inside the Consulate. It was a pretty nerve-racking wait, but the longer I waited, the surer I was that she had gotten it. Applicants that pass the interview are then passed on to the visa issuing line, which obviously takes even longer. She came out at 12:15 pm.
I hadn’t gotten much studying done while I was waiting. Deprived of her cell phone, my girlfriend didn’t have a way to locate me when she came out, so I was waiting near the exit almost the whole time. As soon as I saw her come out, I did the “did you get it?” face and hand gestures. She tried to pretend to be dejected, but she couldn’t help smiling.
I asked her about the interview. I had been told it could be in Chinese if the applicant prefers. She said the guy spoke to her in English, but let her reply in Chinese. (Sounds kinda lazy.) What was she asked? Basically, he wanted to know how she met me, how long we’d been together, and if we were engaged yet. Then he wanted to see the documents related to her job. Aside from that, he wasn’t interested in any of the “proof” we had meticulously compiled. I think the multiple trips to the United States she has already made for her job was all the proof he really needed to see.
She also said that it seemed like most of the applicants were being granted visas. She had heard on the inside that it’s way easier to get a visa now than it was six months ago.
So, was she a shoo-in all along? I still honestly don’t know. I do know that her job (which allowed her to make previous trips to the USA) counted for a lot. I’m not sorry we went to all the trouble of preparing all those documents — it made it all the sweeter when she was granted the visa.
We already bought our plane tickets. Right now all we have to worry about is a fun two-week itinerary for Florida in July.
Last Thursday was my girlfriend’s appointment with a State Department official here in Shanghai about getting a tourist visa to the United States. Fortunately, she got it. For the benefit of others who might be in a similar situation, I’ll describe the process we went through.
My girlfriend had a pretty big advantage from the start: she has been to the United States quite a few times on business. Every time it was to L.A. for a few days. The fact that she has never run off and become an underpaid dishwasher when she had the chance is a big plus.
Still, that’s far from a guarantee. Preparing for this interview in the past few months I’ve heard quite a few horror stories. It seems nothing guarantees a visa.
But let me start from the beginning.
When we decided we wanted to try for a visa, we went straight to the Visa Services page of the US Consulate in Shanghai’s webpage. The page is available in both English and in Chinese, but it’s not well organized at all. It’s downright confusing. After reading through the different sections several times, we got the gist of what we needed to do:
Obviously, Chinese citizens will need a personal passport. There is a fairly simple application procedure to get one issued by the Chinese government.
Buy a CITIC Industrial Bank pre-paid PIN card for 54 rmb, good for a measly 12 minutes of titillating conversation with the Visa Information Call Center.
Use the card to schedule a visa interview appointment with the US Consulate. Expect the interview to be about a month from when you call.
In the meantime you have some things to get together. Download the four forms (DS-156 English, DS-156 Chinese, DS-157 English, DS-157 Chinese) you need from the Visa Services page in PDF form. To make the process go as smoothly as possible at the Consulate, the four forms should be filled out in three different ways:
DS-156 English: Fill it out online and submit it to the system. It will process the form, generate an image file with a bar code, and insert it all into a handy PDF file. Download this PDF file right away. (If you wait too long it’ll expire and go away and you’ll have to do it all over again.) Print it out. Don’t forget to sign it.
DS-157 English: Download to your computer, open (Adobe Acrobat required), and fill out. Save and print out. Don’t forget to fill in the Chinese name by hand (the form doesn’t support Chinese) and to sign it.
DS-156 Chinese and DS-157 Chinese: Print out and fill out by hand. The PDF form doesn’t support Chinese input yet.
Note that if you don’t have a printer, you may have a little trouble finding a place to print it for you that (1) has Adobe Acrobat installed, and (2) can print out a quality copy. I ended up at the Portman Ritz-Carlton on Nanjing Xi Road paying an outrageous 10 rmb per page because I had already failed at about five print shops. Most didn’t have Adobe Acrobat and couldn’t even download it because they had no internet connection. I’m not sure if they would have been willing to install it if I had thought to bring the install file. The one shop that was able to print out the form produced such poor quality that I couldn’t use it.
Attach a 2 inch by 2 inch passport photograph to both the DS-156 English form and the DS-156 Chinese form.
“Each applicant must pay a non-refundable 830 rmb application fee at an authorized branch of the CITIC Industrial Bank before coming to apply at the Consular Section.”
You will also need to get together proof of employment. “Every applicant must be able to prove that he or she works in and/or is a resident of our Shanghai consular district, which includes the Shanghai Municipality, and the provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.”
Finally, the really important extra credit: “In addition to the above requirements, you are advised to present documentation and other evidence establishing social, economic, and other ties that would compel your departure from the United States after a temporary and lawful stay.“
It’s pretty much impossible to prove that you’ll come back, but you’ve got to give it your best. The way I saw it, we had to demonstrate three things:
Our relationship was real.
My girlfriend had good reason to return to Shanghai.
I had good reason to return to Shanghai (i.e. the two of us hadn’t decided to go live in the USA).
In order to “prove” these three points, we put together a big thick file:
With all that information, good organization was essential. The visa officer wouldn’t have long to do the interview, and he’s certainly not going to sift through a big mess of loose papers. The file contained the following:
0. Handy table of contents, in both English and Chinese.
1. Letter of Invitation from me on behalf of the Pasden family, and three pictures: (1) the two of us, (2) her with my sister Amy, (3) my family picture (“proving” that the girl in picture #2 was, in fact, my sister).
2. My girlfriend’s proof of employment, proof of decent income, and employer’s written permission to make a short trip to the United States.
3. Proof of her Shanghai home ownership and mortgage.
4. Proof of her car ownership and driver’s license.
5. Proof of her prior trips to the United States and other Western countries in the form of visa photocopies.
6. Proof of her financial security in Shanghai (certificate of deposit).
7. Proof of her ongoing pursuit of higher education.
8. Proof of my long-term residence in China (photocopies of passport, visas, work permit).
9. Proof of my residence in Shanghai (lease lasting through the end of 2005).
10. Proof of my financial security in Shanghai (account statement).
11. Proof of my Chinese ability (HSK certificate).
12. Letter from the administration attesting that I am currently finalizing enrollment in a graduate program in Applied Linguistics at East China Normal University.
Whew! That’s a big heap of information! The thing is, none of it guarantees anything. In fact, we knew from the beginning that the visa officer would probably not look at much of it at all. But we still had to take it to strengthen our case. So with all that going for us, we still didn’t feel confident going into the interview.
P.S. I declare this entry the listiest Sinosplice entry ever!
Note: This is my last entry published with Movable Type. I should have the new WordPress blog up in the next 24 hours, after which comments will be back! The weblog URL will not change, but the RSS URL will change.
This Thursday a Chinese girl will have an interview for a visa to visit the United States. She will explain to you that she’s my girlfriend, and she would just like to visit my family with me in Florida this summer. It’s the truth. She’ll have a mountain of evidence as to why both she and I plan to stay in Shanghai. It’s all legit. My entrance exam for grad school at East China Normal University here in Shanghai is this Friday.
Just on the off chance that you or your friends read this blog, I’d just like to let you know that I have years of entries full of reasons as to why I’ll be staying in Shanghai. “To Stay” strikes me as particularly relevant. However, my girlfriend can’t take my website in with her.
So, State Department person… just on the off chance that you see this before her interview, please don’t be cruel.