Arrested for visa overstay
Trip Start Jul 01, 2008
55Trip End Nov 31, 2009
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Hotel Arrest Is Nice, but Not Worth Expired Visa Trouble
Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 5:59 pm By Matt
Hotel arrest is pretty nice in Beijing.
I found that out earlier this month while visiting a 24-year-old Indonesian woman - a friend of a friend - who had just been through the Beijing corrections system.
Her name is Sisca. She doesn't have a family name, but she does have an interesting cautionary tale about what could happen to you if you overstay your visa in China.
It's not pretty - until the end during the short 'halfway house' period of hotel arrest, when you're waiting for your flight to leave.
I arrived to visit Sisca at a hotel near Beijing's airport on July 4 - Independence Day for us Americans, and as it turns out, for Sisca as well, as it was the day she got out of jail.
My taxi was halfway submerged in water by the time it arrived at the hotel due to some flash floods. I was in a damp mood also - a suitable one I thought to appear before this young woman who had spent the previous 18 days in a Chinese jail.
The scene was altogether bizarre. The hotel didn't look like much on the outside, but inside, it was posh. Thick hallway carpeting, mood lighting, and cool room design greeted guests, including - apparently - inmates. I was more than happy to plop down on the oversized fluffy bed upon my arrival and order some Hong Kong-style room service. Two police officers were posted next door to ensure Sisca wasn't going anywhere. I wouldn't be either with this kind of ambience, and celebrated one of the best Independence Days in recent memory being regaled with tales of an odd arrest and prison by my new friend. I left around midnight when Sisca's boyfriend showed up for a semi-conjugal visit.
Sisca wound up at the hotel after they airline cancelled her flight and paid for her night's stay. She was on the airline's expense account, and took full advantage of free bites to eat that ensued.
Up until that point, however, Sisca had been living a foreigner's nightmare, having wound up in the Chinese penal system in a way that might seem understandable at first glimpse, but surprising as the details are revealed. Her tale should provide any foreigner - whether in China on leisure, studying or doing business - ample reason to get their visa situation well sorted out.
Sisca's last visa expired in Beijing on Dec. 30, 2007.
She delayed taking steps to renew it for some time, and then began the process.
In February, she appeared at a visa office in Beijing to pay a fine of 5,000 RMB and to take renewal steps. For some time, she tried to stay in Beijing through various means, but plenty of hurdles got in the way. A hospital diagnosed her with tuberculosis, for instance, preventing her from continuing to stay in China on a student visa. She was preparing to leave for Hong Kong to find another visa alternative when she was informed she would have to pay another 5,000 RMB again, as she had overstayed her visa beyond the 10 allotted days after paying the previous fine.
Sisca didn't want to pay. She was way short on cash at this point, and had been led to believe she could renew her visa by various government authorities including visa agents and school officials until her tuberculosis test came back positive.
She sought out ways to avoid the fine through independent agents, her embassy and Beijing's visa office, but all came to naught.
She resigned to cobbling together another 5,000 RMB, and was instructed by a visa official in Beijing that she could pay at the airport on her way out. At the airport, fully prepared to pay her fine and leave, immigration officials denied the payment, which they said she would have to make before appearing at the airport.
Another visa official suggested coming back to the main office, where she could have a new visa made, and then she could leave. She had already given this official her residence permit, but he admitted to losing it, and it was required to make a new visa.
While trying to find a way to get a new residence permit, police approached her and told her to take them to her home. She agreed, under the impression that together they could collect some residence materials needed to make a permit to get a new visa. But once at home, a policeman instructed her to wait there for more police to arrive.
"You have to pack your stuff, your clothes, everything," he told her. "You have to go with them."
Sisca responded: "Why? Will you put me in the jail"
He said no, "It's not going to happen."
Sisca was confused and began to cry. Two additional officers took her to a police station where she waited for two hours. No one gave her a reason for why she was there.
"After that, they told me to get in the car," Sisca said. "At that time I asked again to the police, hey please tell me where you are going to take me. Am I going to prison? They said, yeah, 'You feel sorry now, right?'"
Sisca's troubles were only beginning, but up to this point, her tale should provide some tips to foreigners in danger of arrest in China.
* First, Sisca said until she actually arrived at jail, she had access to her mobile phone. On the way to jail, she called friends and the Indonesian embassy to inform them about her situation. In this mobile age, it's important to have your mobile with you at all times, especially if you're engaging in risky behavior or are in a precarious situation.
* Second, from the moment your visa expires, it sounds like the clock is ticking until jail time. Don't wait to get things straightened out, and if things are taking too long, it's time to get the best intelligence possible on how to get out of the country. Don't rely on independent agents at this point. Do exactly what the government says to do, but even then, check to make sure your information is right.
* Third, always keep plenty of emergency cash on standby in China. You might not need it, but it could be your ass if you do.