Monday, 23 February 2009

Visa update for The Year of the Ox – shorter stays for foreigners all round.

Ironically, this year is my year. I was born in 1985, two whole oxen ago and so, in my opinion (I have no real idea what it entails if it IS your year in the Chinese zodiac) this year should be all good for me.

However, if you read my previous post about visa intricacies in China you may well know that the turn of the year wasn’t so good for me in terms of legality.

My student visa was up just at Chinese New Year, making it a little awkward to organise anything within China while at the same time making it slightly annoying to organise anything outside of China (getting plane tickets isn’t the easiest or cheapest thing to do around then).

I circumvented this problem however by managing to wangle a month-long tourist extension at the end of my Fudan stay, which – I was told – would let me go through one of the many travel agencies in China to change my L (tourist) via into an F (business) visa.

Well, when it came round to doing so I was told finally and very bluntly that no, I couldn’t get it done. Being as it was a final extension, it effectively meant that I had to get the hell out of the country at the end of it.

Which leads me to my current location: right now I’m outside the Chinese visa office in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong – a place well known by foreigners in China as one of the default visa top-up spots in the world.

Having joined the post-lunch queue on Harbour road, I handed over my passport, picture, and application form in the hope that my clever entry of “Longest planned stay in China: 120 days” would slip by the consulate officer and I would be on my way to an easier time all round when I got back to Shanghai.

It didn’t.

This came as no surprise though. Last week – after I was told politely that I had to get out of China – I made a few phone calls. Independent travel agencies, visa offices and China Travel Service (CTS) branches in Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Thailand and the UK all got calls from me wondering what the situation with F and L visas were like at the moment. Not one of them could offer anything more than a 30-day maximum stay.

London, which just before the Chinese New Year offered 60 and before Christmas offered at least 90 now only offers 30.

Hong Kong, which was previously the place-to-go for 90 days, now only offers 30.

The reasons for this: I have no idea. As is always the case this might be totally different in a month. But for now, if you’ve scheduled a visa run somewhere soon, don’t be optimistic about getting anymore that that.

(If you do however, please let me know how, and where, you got it done!)

And on a final note, the base cost for arranging visas internally has sky rocketed for UK passport holders. What was around the 3500 mark for six months before the beginning of February is now 4800, and a year is 7500
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