Many overseas visitors came to China to do business and found themselves trapped here due to Covid-19. Some business-people actually spend more of their lives in China than they do in their own country and buy property here. Their visas don’t permit residence in China but their lifestyle is such that they come and go so often it’s worth staying in their own apartment rather than a hotel. One such visitor is Charles (name has been changed to protect privacy).
In January, Charles entered China and went to stay in his apartment in Guangdong. He did what he always does, and registered with the police at his temporary address which allowed him up to 90 days to stay in the country. Then came Covid-19. Not only did China lock down it’s citizens but also the temporary residents met the same restrictions.
At the time of Charles’s 90-day temporary residency expiring he went to the Immigration Department and was advised of an automatic 60-day extension. And this is where things went wrong… Charles now has a record with the police and lost a day of his life sorting out what happened.
[File Photo\Entry check point in Guangzhou]
So, I asked Charles a few questions and got the full story:
GDT: In your own words, can you tell us what happened?
Charles: Yes, I had a visa with an expiry date of 2nd August and multiple entries of 90-day stays. When my 90-day temporary visit was finished, I went to the Immigration Department a few days before and was told that all the visas such as mine would be granted an automatic 60-day extension.
I assumed everything was ok and just went home, but I didn’t realise the paperwork I had for my temporary stay at my apartment had also expired, so this is the first problem, I hadn’t overstayed, but I hadn’t registered my temporary address again, I should have gone to my local police station and received another 60 day temporary resident permit.
GDT: That doesn’t sound too serious, why did you get into trouble about this?
Charles: Because my usual temporary residence was for 90 days and my visa expiry date was within that 90 days, but beyond the 60-day extension. And, I hadn’t been and registered with the local police, I didn’t receive the temporary residence permit which would have given me the expiry date. So, I waited until a few days before my visa expired and went back to the Immigration Department. They told me I had overstayed and needed to go back to the police station to be processed.
GDT: So, you actually spent more than the 60 days allowed, and you hadn’t registered again at your temporary address, is that right?
Charles: Exactly, because of the 90 day limit, and the expiry date of my visa being within that 90 days, I was a little confused, I realise now that the expiry date of the visa is not actually an expiry date, it’s called “Enter Before Date” and so, no matter what day you enter, the temporary registration of an address is usually for 90 days from that date and no more.
Had I gone to my police Station when I was granted a further 60 days, they would have told me this and I would have been able to simply renew my 60 day extension, and then, if Covid-19 still caused travel restrictions, I could have registered for a further 60 days without worrying about the renewal of a visa.
Foreigners can consult about visa related problems at the foreigner service center in the community. [Photo\Newsgd.com]
GDT: So, you went to the Immigration Department, having overstayed for one month, what happened then?
Charles: They sent me back to my local police station where I spent the next 8 hours. While the police were extremely polite and very efficient the process was quite disturbing for someone like myself who has never been on the wrong end of a police investigation before.
GDT: can you talk us through the day?
Charles: Sure, the first step was to contact my English-speaking Chinese friend, she was able to help me with any translation issues. On arrival at the police station with her, she explained to the police officer on the desk what had happened and we were taken through to an interview room.
This is a serious room with bolted down chairs which had ankle and wrist manacles! Fortunately, these weren’t used, but it’s a sobering reminder that we were in a police station and the matter was quite serious. The officer interviewed me with a series of questions, he typed all the answers into a computer and took a long time doing so. I have to be honest; he was extremely polite at all times there was no pressure from the police, but my own internal pressure made me feel incredibly nervous. The officer told my translator several times to ask me to calm down, it was procedural and I wasn’t going to be charged or locked up.
The interview went well over an hour while everything was discovered, typed into the computer and double checked. Then it was lunchtime, 12 noon. They asked me to go home and come back at 2pm. I have to admit, it wasn’t a very enjoyable lunch. After lunch we went back to the station, saw the same officer and were taken into the same interview room where a series of checks and information record were carried out.
Once this was all done, we sat down again and the officer asked me if I knew all that I had done was wrong and why. This was a formal warning. I was asked to sign each page of the interview record and leave my fingerprint on each piece of paper.
The officer advised me, through the translator that I was receiving an administration warning, education and a caution not to do this again, or the consequences would be more serious. They also informed me that, because it was me who came forward to them and not them finding me in breach of my visa, that the matter was dealt with in an informal way. Had I been trying to hide, or avoid the Immigration issues, they might have treated me much more seriously. And, as far as the police were concerned, the matter was now closed.
GDT: So, did you then need to go back to the Immigration Department?
Charles: Yes, but it wasn’t possible for us to go back that day as it was already after 5pm. We had spent the entire morning and afternoon in the police station. However, I was able to go back the next day and they accepted my application for a renewed visa which will take a few days to be issued.
GDT: Having gone through and experienced all this, what advice would you give to someone who is unsure of what steps to take regarding their visa renewal, application or extension process?
Charles: Absolutely register with your local police, make sure they understand and you understand what date the paperwork ends and what steps you need to take before that registration ends. Find out if you need to go back to the police station or to the immigration office. If you can’t do this on your own, take a translator with you, although most police offices will find someone to help, it’s always better to know the person who will translate for you. And, if you do have a problem with your visa during this “special time”, take the problem to the local police, they will help you sort it out much easier than if they catch you in breach of your visa conditions.
GDT: Thanks Charles, a serious situation which could have gone very badly but for the previous good record you had. How would you rate your experience with the Police and Immigration Department?
Charles: Absolutely the worst experience of my life but not because of the official process or the people doing it, they were courteous and professional, they were reassuring, informative and efficient throughout. I don’t ever want to go through an event like that again, but I can say, if anyone else needs to do this, don’t be afraid of how you will be treated, if you have a problem, go to them and explain, it will be much better for you.
So when business visa holders have their visa extended, they should also renew their registered temporary address to avoid what Charles went through.
Editor: Wing, Jasmine