Oh Canada!

The longer I live in China the more I am thankful my parents made the decision all those years ago to move to England. I hear many stories of horrific experiences Chinese friends have when trying to apply for visas to travel abroad.

In the last month I’ve heard of two completely independent stories relating the the Canadian visa centre in Shanghai that I found shocking.

My friend is Canadian but his wife is Chinese and they have a young child who was born here. The list of complaints is quite long and started with the usual ones, such as being incorrectly informed of what documents needed to be presented, resulting in wasted trips back and forth. Fine if you are unemployed, more problematic if like most people you actually work.

When my friend’s wife returned to the visa office with the correct documents, they had to wait for 2 hours with the small child who understandably became restless and started crying as babies are known to do from time to time. The response to this by one of the Chinese visa centre staff was to mutter “I wish I could just slap that baby across the mouth to shut him up”!

Another friend also applied in July for a visa. She has family / friends there so the apllication was classed as “family visit”. For this the Canadian visa office demanded the following:

1. An invitation letter stating the purpose and duration of the visit (quite reasonable).
2. A list showing the number of people in inviter’s household (erm, okay).
3. A copy of the inviter’s citizenship or immigration status document (e.g. Permanent Resident Card – please copy both sides, Study Permit, Work Permit, etc.)
4. Proof of inviter’s income and financial situation in the form of independent, third-party documentation from a Canadian source which is reliable or easily verifiable (seriously??).

When my friend called the visa hotline, she was also told she needed the inviter to visit the visa office in Shanghai. Yes, in addition to providing the items listed above, they were suggesting the inviter fly from Canada to Shanghai to visit the visa office in person! My friend pointed out that this could not possibly be correct but the girl on the phone insisted this was a requirement. When my friend went to the visa office in person, she was told this was (of course) untrue and there was no need for the friend in Canada to fly over.

Throughout the whole process the visa centre staff seemed unsure of the process and constantly referred to the staff manual whenever they were asked a question.

In a word, it was a shambles and my Canadian friend wrote a strongly worded complaint letter to the consulate. Apparently one change has already been implemented as a result : people with infants no longer need to wait in line.

My friend eventually gave up on the friend visit visa and applied instead for a standard tourist visa, which is what you apply for if you know nobody there and just want to go travelling. Surprisingly, it seems easier to get a visa if you don’t know anyone there!

So both friends eventually got their visas so it has all worked out nicely. And this little story is nothing compared to the US visa application story I have lined up for you, so stay tuned!

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27 Responses to Oh Canada!

  1. CP says:

    Who do we actually blame for this sorry state of affairs? Canada for the stringent requirements? Those who abuse the system in Canada and disappear when on tourist trips there? The Canadian embassy for not training their staff? Or the staff for being, by the sounds of it, generally untrainable?

  2. WoAi says:

    @CP – Obviously I blame Her Majesty The Queen who should never have allowed Canada to be independent from Britain. I mean look what happens.

    Actually I learned the Canadians contracted out the visa processing to another company. I’m guessing they won’t be renewing the contract.

  3. CP says:

    @WoAi: I like your thinking. If only we’d turned the entire world map pink there would be no need for visas!

  4. JohnG says:

    Hey Woai

    Sounds like your friends got the bump rap. My girlfriend is applying for a tourist visa through the same center and had the exact opposite experience. Now a little caveat to that. I’m Canadian and we called the center before asking for what documents are necessary -and the staff were quite helpful even allowing us to submit documents electronically to speed up the process.

    Now some clarifications on your second friend’s case:

    Applying for a family visit was probably a bad decision on her part. Those applications are scrutinized the most because having relations in the country is considered the most likely reason not to return (I’ve met a number of illegal Chinese immigrants in Canada) and most of them have got into the country this way.

    The visa center is relatively new and I think the staff don’t all know what they’re doing yet – inviters are usually never asked to appear. As for the financial documents this simply means a letter from an employer showing the person has a job and stating a salary. If they’re not employed revenue Canada documents are necessary. It’s simply to prove that the person travelling there isn’t going to go on welfare.

    Hope this clears things up.


  5. JohnG says:

    One more thing you can also go for visa services at the consulate in Shanghai Center Visa hours are 8-3pm though.

  6. WoAi says:

    @CP – And make the pound the only currency accepted anywhere in the world.

    @John G – Good to hear there are some people getting visas more smoothly. I understand what you are saying but it just seems counter-intuitive that you have less chance of getting a visa if you have friends there. Doesn’t it mean if I wanted to illegally immigrate to Canada I simply need to apply for a tourist visa and pretend not to know anyone?

    By contrast, for the UK they just asked for an invitation letter but no income proof or declaration of how many people lived in the house.

    Ah yes, that’s another thing, the opening hours. My friend had to make several trips because if closing time arrives and you haven’t been served yet, you have to go back the next day.

  7. JohnG says:

    @WoAi I agree with you (I didn’t make the rules I just have to follow them). The only way to get out of this stuff is to be sponsored by a company or get dispensation from the Immigration minister directly.

  8. Flutter-by says:

    WoAi, you touched the sore spot of us normal Chinese “shitizens”. It’s really a headache to apply for a visa to visit developed countries. I had planned to have a vacation in Europe (Greece & Italy), but I later shifted my destination to Maldives after I got to know how complicated the documents would be to apply for a Schengen visa. Besides what’s officially listed out, the travel agency also asks for huge amount of deposit. Another problem for me is the salary tax record, because I’m mainly paid by pink bills.
    Even if I managed to collect all the required documents, there is still a chance (quite high chance for Chinese) that I eventually got a DENIED stamp on my paper. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be, if you and your wife prepared for long time an overseas honeymoon trip, but at last only your wife got the visa before you set off? I won’t take that risk.
    Maybe you don’t know another thing, even if we want to fly to countries that accept landing visas (like Maldives and Palau), we still need to apply for a thirty party visa (eg. Singapore, Malaysia, Philippine), because Chinese government doesn’t allow us to board an international flight without a visa.
    Who can we blame? To say with a calm down mentality, nobody else. If I were the foreign ambassador, I might have enacted even stricter regulations. Who wants to see his motherland full of illegal immigrants after all?
    Just hope the Celestial Empire could regain its glory as it was 1000 years ago.

  9. Stimpy says:

    Let me guess- these staff were not Canadian, but local Shanghainese. Most likely girls in the their twenties.

    Yep, you get them everywhere. Rude, ill-informed, and annoyed that someone is bothering them from their day of QQ and TaoBao.

  10. T. says:

    third-party documentation from a Canadian source which is reliable or easily verifiable

    This is similar to the process they make Canadians go through to apply for a passport overseas (say if they’ve filled up all the pages or its expiring) they need a letter from a Canadian professional (I believe, accountants, attorneys and doctors are acceptable) verifying you’re Canadian.

  11. Byron says:

    My (Colombian) wife needs to renew her US visa soon here in Shanghai, so I’m looking forward (sort of) to reading about what’s required there …

  12. WoAi says:

    @flutter-by – I feel your pain. As I said at the beginning, I genuinely am thankful that just by pure accident of birth my passport is British and as a consequence, there are very few countries I need permission to visit (ironically, China is one of those countries!). The good news is I predict it will get easier. Already supposedly, European countries are trying hard to attract more Chinese tourists.

    @Stimpy – Yes, Shanghainese girls in their twenties, exactly. Sounds a lot like you have met the type before. They can also be found in state owned departments and banks.

    @T – Same for UK citizens. I once had to write on the back of a small passport photo that the person was the person he claimed to be. I think it was Dingle!

    @Byron – You’re married to Shakira? Okay, US visa post is coming very soon, latest next week.

  13. trevelyan says:

    I’m a Canadian citizen and have had a horrible experience with the visa process as well. When I planned to visit Toronto with a friend over Christmas, despite our getting all of the required information in order (including financial papers) our visa was summarily rejected by the Canadian Embassy in Beijing. No explanation was given, and any attempt to contact the embassy resulted in our being told there was no review, no interview, no explanation. We couldn’t even speak to anyone about it to find out what the problem was. “You just have to reapply and pay the fee again,” we were told.

    The Canadian Embassy treats Chinese visa applicants like shit. Invitees don’t even have the option of an interview as the American embassy provides — not even when they are invited by Canadian citizens! When I complained about this, I was told the current system was necessary since under 10% of visa applicants ever return to China. The person who told us this seemed unaware of the irony of the situation.

    We eventually asked our MPs in Canada for letters of support and made another application with those letters stapled to the front of the package so the Chinese visa processing center couldn’t hide them at the bottom as apparently required. That one went through at the last minute and a visa was granted. Still… the entire process was frustrating. And judging by the number of applicants we saw pushed through the system, it is very profitable to whoever is collecting the $100 per application.

    My guess is that most applications are summarily denied, unless there is evidence that someone who matters will be inconvenienced. Couple this with the fact that few Canadian staff at the Beijing Embassy are functionally literate in Chinese and you have a situation which is ripe for mismanagement and abuse. It is an embarrassment to Canada and an insult to China.

  14. WoAi says:

    @trevelyan – Firstly I apologise your comment was marked as SPAM and when I read it it was evident it was as far from SPAM as any comment here.

    Your experience really seems consistent with everyone I have talked to with the exception of JohnG who seems to have had amazing luck with his application.

    Your comment reminded me of something else I forgot to mention : in Shanghai there are signs saying something like “anyone who shouts or becomes angry will not be served”. Clearly, they have pissed off so many visa candidates already hence the need for the sign. Do they not realise there would be no need for that sign if they simply provided a decent level of service, but the fact they chose instead to put up a ridiculous sign speaks volumes doesn’t it?

    And yes, visa applicants are treated like shit. It’s like they are beggars begging for scraps. But I think this applies to many consulates. I remember when I was in Beijing and needed a new passport. As I attempted to walk in to the embassy office the security guard very rudely stopped me and asked if I had an appointment, assuming I was after a visa. I flashed my passport and told him I was British and his whole manner changed completely. It is truly awful.

    I do not believe that 10% statistic though. Can’t be true, can it?

  15. JohnG says:

    @Woai I have to say I had a good experience this time because I’ve helped people apply before. Like @trevelyan my friend was rejected the first time. Instead of reapplying I was able to get a meeting the minister of immigration (via my local MP and a family-member who is a Senator (equivalent of UK House of Lords)). Besides scaring the shit out of the embassy in Beijing and therefore getting good service (We were allowed in before visa hours and never had to stand in line despite the fact there were people lined up there from 4am) I was also able to find out what was required to ensure approval.

    One of the key factors is a history of having been aboard and returned (IE if you’ve been to the US and come back you’ll probably get a visa).

    Without that knowledge I would be just as frustrated as everyone else.


  16. WoAi says:

    @John G – So it’s because of your connections? From reading your initial post it SEEMED like you were a bit surprised by my friend’s poor experience because your friend had the opposite experience. Now it makes much more sense!

  17. Miss Jane says:

    Well the Canadian gov’t just opened the flood gate to allow controlled Chinese tour groups to come to Canada. I am sure that’s exciting for some mainland folks with money. Also if you have family here you can always go to a local MP to get a written letter supporting your family’s visit. That worked for me a few years ago when I sponsored my aunt over. We did pay some fees but it’s all standard procedure here and there!

    IMHO, as long as you got money and you can prove you are coming back to China getting a visitor’s VISA to Canada is not that difficult.

  18. Miss Cry says:

    I found this website as I googled to see the experience previous applicants have dealt with applying for a Canadian Visa in China. I realize the last post was two years ago but just need to point out that the whole system is still the same.

    The whole experience for processing a visa for Canada at the Visa Application Centre in Shanghai has been terrible. I was met my appaling customer service where a mess of misinformed staff provided me with different answers from one another each time I asked a question. I am a full time student in Australia who was granted a 6 month exchange to Canada, and as to spend the summer with my parents who live and work in Shanghai, made the silly mistake of applying here where the website stated 2 weeks instead of in Australia where they do same day processing ( perfect service in my previous experience)

    I intially dealt with a man who said it impossible for me to apply for a temporary resident visa in the section of a student as my exchange was for less than six months, a piece of information clearly innacurate as the immigration officer at my host University in Canada and embassy in Australia told me I should do. After leaving the VAC and returning at a later time with all newly printed information for a study permit I was met by Sara who explained that Sam was in fact wrong, and I could apply for a temporary resident visa in the category of a student if my study period was less than six months. I pointed out quickly that I was a student in Australia accepted to do a semester exchange in Canada and due to my parents residing in China, was applying here as to spend the summer with them. However, of greatest importance, that my Chinese Tourist Visa was only valid for a little over one month from the date I was sending in my application. She reassured me that she understood my situation and that the Temporary Resident Visa for a student would take 2 weeks. I stressed my concern and nervousness and that if it were to take longer I would not submit it, but again she assured me my passport would be ready for collection in 2 weeks, a time also clearly stated on the website.

    It has now been over 5 weeks from which I submitted my passport to the VAC and went in today as to gather information on the process of my application. I was met by a new employee who had zero empathy for my major inconvenience and in fact laughed at my distress. She said that it would take even longer to process. This poor customer service reflects poorly on Canada, a country of which my fiance is from and have been to numerous times and love, and which I am excited to study in. I not only wish to oblidge by the rules of China and not overstay my Chinese visa, and if I had been given an accurate piece of information by anyone at the VAC I would have taken a completely different approach to this situation. However, I am also faced with the fact that I now run the risk of missing out on the semester in Canada it is starting in a weeks time. The semester in Australia is reversed due to the reversed seasons and started a month ago, and I can no longer enroll in classes there…jeapordizing my whole degree. Does anyone have any advice on what I can do?? I have emailed the consulate and still recieved no responses… Any advice would be truly much appreciated!!

  19. WoAi says:

    @Miss Cry – Wow, I’m sorry to hear of your plight. Clearly you need to take this to a higher level and perhaps from the other end. I mean contact someone in Canada who can expedite your application given the very desperate situation you find yourself in now. Is there nobody in Canada who you can talk to to suggest some official department you can contact?

    I am really shocked to see nothing has changed. If anything, it’s worse than before. And I thank my lucky stars Brits do not require visas to visit Canada.

  20. JohnG says:

    It’s a Chinese company that runs this centre independent of the Consulate. I had trouble with them earlier this year when we took my in-laws to Canada. I solved it by going. The staff there have got much worse than my initial experience two years ago. I solved my problem by going myself. The VAC takes Canadians seriously as our complaints would have more weight with the consulate in theory. I also have to say service at the consulate has got worse to due to this outsourcing process

  21. JohnG says:

    If you honestly want help get your fiance to call his MP to lobby for you. Ask your university for help too. Explain your situation. It’s a bit unique and therefore you might get assistance. If they bring up why you did apply in Australia at an earlier date plead ignorance. The consulate cannot help you as they can’t be seen as favouring visa applicants.

  22. JohnG says:

    Sorry didn’t apply at an earlier date

  23. chengdusticksguy says:

    Wow – it is hard to believe (but then not) that the situation is worse. JohnG is definitely right – your fiance needs to write pronto to his MP – I had to do this and this helped “solve” things within a few days.

    This does indeed reflect so poorly on Canada – and I am guessing this shambolic contractor – the VAC – does not understand the following key difference. There are high risk applicants who may stay on illegally – and somehow they interpret that to mean people like you who have a Canadian fiance or people like my wife who have a Canadian husband and child. That was the original reason for the delay in my wife’s application – she was high risk to stay in the country!!!

    Anyway my MP is a good friend who happens also to be on a China-Canada business council – as he is half Chinese by ethnicity. I will be forwarding this whole thread to his constituency office assistant and hopefully see the end of the current VAC.

  24. JohnG says:

    @Chengdusticksguy — Yes that is the right course of action.

    The other problem I see with this is simply this is China and therefore the visa volume is high and the VAC staff probably see that they have some power and probably want to hold it over people a bit while doing the least amount of work possible.

    I believe it’s the same company that provides VAC services to India and I think Switzerland as they’re on the same floor. I wonder if people who go to those offices have the same bad impression of those countries?

  25. Miss Cry says:

    @ John G
    @ chengdusticksguy
    @ WoAi

    I cant begin to express how much I appreciate you guys taking the time to read and reply to my message! I will have him contact his MP. Do you suggest the MP send an email or to get in contact with them through another method? Thank you once again for the advice!

  26. chengdusticksguy says:

    There should be a manager/email address at the VAC – re-shanghai-im-enquiry@international.gc.ca – is the one I see in my old records.

    I sent them a message detailing the crap service I had and brought their attention that I was cc ing my MP into the mail. My MPs assistant then asked for additional details and would have sent a follow up – but by this time my problem had been solved.

    I hope this helps.

  27. JohnG says:

    I would say do what @Chengdustickguy says. You can also ask the MP to go directly to the immigration minister (if the MP has that sway and is in the same party this can work). I have done this in the past and with the minister’s prodding the embassy will jump in and really do their jobs if this happens (basically cause if they don’t they won’t have them any more).

    Just a word of caution, there is no guarantee that this will work. You’re applying via a 3rd country and China is the source of Canada’s majority of immigrants and therefore processing time here is always the longest, but it is always worth it to try.

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