The dreaded Canadian visa process

After a failed start last Thursday*, Maggie’s application for a visa to go to Canada with me this Christmas has finally been submitted.

Why is it that governmental bodies, no matter of what nation or for what purpose, always have the ability to make even the most innocent person feel like a criminal?

For something as simple as trying to visit my homeland with my wife and I feel like I’m under a lamp and hooked to a polygraph. To get to China, I showed up, walked past the FLG pamphlet dispensers, gave them $60 and came back the next day and got my visa.

For Maggie’s application best we could figure from the mountain of obtuseness that is the Canadian Immigration system was that we needed to prove our marriage was legitimate, and she hadn’t just married me for the money (hahahahaha)/ticket to Canada and that she would indeed return to China.

That’s a whole lot easier to say than to do. I mean, Maggie’s not exactly a tycoon. She had never had a bank account before we got together, and her tied-to-China assets pretty much amount to a yoga mat, a library of yoga books and DVDs, and far too many shoes.

The result was that we ended up putting together a binder full of information thicker than an encyclopedia in hopes that our sheer commitment to getting this done would impress the decision makers. For anyone that’s curious, here’s what we included:

  • Her application form in duplicate
  • Her family details, education and employment history
  • Her financial records (a copy of her bank book – though this wasn’t what was really required, a Statement of Secured Savings/Funds was, but the fee for the statement would have halved the funds, and it wasn’t expensive)
  • An explanatory letter from me outlining the purpose of the trip
  • Six months of my financial records
  • A letter explaining our pathetic finances (I’m a student and she’s… well… Chinese)
  • Both of our passports and wedding certificates
  • A history of our relationship (excerpted from this blog)
  • A letter granting a leave of absence from her employer
  • A letter of invitation from both my father and my sister
  • Six months of bank records, pay stubs and letters from their respective employers from my father and sister

Additionally, the Canadian Consulate in Shanghai requires that you pay with a bank draft, something their site misleadingly states can be got “conveniently” from any local bank. It took us three. The first two had no idea what it was and told us we had to go to a bigger branch.

We ended up at Suzhou’s main Bank of China branch, the sheer size of which would make some of the King St. crew blush. In asking them for a bank draft the girl stopped and I swear I watched as her eyes glazed over. She snapped out of it and confirmed we actually asked for a bank draft for 520 RMB. We confirmed. She again confirmed, this time the emphasis being put on the 520. We confirmed. She again confirmed, this time with the emphasis on the RMB. We confirmed. She reglazed.

After banging on the Plexiglas between us, she came to and said she’d never heard of anyone requesting one for RMB before. Usually they were done in foreign currencies. We asked if it could be done. She again returned to her happy place. Snap. Back. She wasn’t sure.

After watching her ask half of the completely disinterested staff, she pulled out a form (from her desk) and we were on our way. Honestly, if ever there was something to fear in China’s rise, it’s that their banking “system” might catch on (rather than the presumed other way around).

Anyway, it’s done. Now all we can do is hope. Wish us luck.

* The first attempt last Thursday saw us go all the way to Shanghai (me skipping school and Maggie taking off work) to be told in the first five seconds that Maggie was required to have an official residence permit for Suzhou before the Canadian Consulate could help her. Back to Suzhou, 1 RMB and five minutes later and we had it. What a waste of time – China seems to love red tape like it loves red underwear.

19 Responses

  1. Good luck, man. So far I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to avoid the red-tape China is so notorious for. (mostly…I did have to extend my visa three times, but that was fairly painless)
    Have fun in Canada if things work out.
    Eat a wet-burrito for me…and some bagels….oh man…

  2. Had the same run around with the British consulate in Beijing when my wife and I wanted to visit the UK (where I’m from). Forms and documents coming out of our ears, and cos we were staying with my parents needed photo of my parents outside their house and documents proving they owned it plus 6 months worth of bank statements from them and copies of their passports etc etc!!! Nightmare. After all the paperwork was processed we (well, my wife) were called for an interview – all the way to Beijing, needed about 3 days off work. The interview lasted 5 minutes and she was approved. Cost us a fortune in train tickets and hotels though.
    As you said, makes you feel like a criminal.

  3. I wonder how much of this trouble comes from the receiving country and how much comes from China itself. I know a few students trying to go abroad and they spend years applying (and then there’s the money issue). One told me today he’s in the last stage, which means another three months of waiting. It’s rough. And yet more Chinese are traveling every year.

    One other thing: “To get to China, I showed up, walked past the FLG pamphlet dispensers, gave them $60 and came back the next day and got my visa.”

    I had the exact same experience at the consulate in LA. The FLG’s were even doing a mock-up organ extraction. Hell of an introduction to China.

  4. @Jason: Cheers man.

    @Chinaqanda: Good to know it’s not just my nation that doesn’t seem to understand the prohibitive expenses of it all. Hopefully we’ll have the same result – fortunately we are able to just jet out to Shanghai for it all.

    @Chris: I think it’s all from the receiving country. China’s pretty footloose and fancy free when it comes to letting its people out of the country. However, the whole Hukou place-of-birth registration thing is a distinctly Chinese addition to the pain-in-the-assedness of it all.

  5. What a pain this must be. All of these immigration processes have turned into major bureaucratic exercises. The worst of it is, if you make one small mistake in a form, it all gets sent back and you have to go through the long wait again. I recently helped my neighbour with applying for her permanent resident card here and boy, that was no picnic. I wish you luck!!

  6. I’m dreading the application for Sammi to go back to Canada for a visit in August. Because I have no idea what I can write about our finances since I don’t pay tax in China. Maybe I will just have to say I’m independently wealthy.

    Thanks for putting all the steps online in one neat list it’ll make it much easier now that we won’t have to comb though all the other bullshit online

  7. I got a call today saying I also need to include proof that I’m registered in a Chinese school (the student visa, that requires just this information, isn’t proof enough).

    Also, they need proof that I’ll be returning to school next term, or some letter explaining what I’ll be doing. Pain. In. My. Ass.

    Fortunately (perhaps in part because I sent a rather barbed e-mail in response to their non-descript call to Maggie this morning regarding this) we will not need to make an additional trip to Shanghai, but rather are able to just bring this information with us when we go for Maggie’s interview next week.

  8. Similar boat here. I’m trying to get my wife to the US for Spring Festival. She has to go for an interview in a few weeks. The paperwork we’re putting together is ridiculous. Good thing our friends did this last year and they’re giving some useful advice on what to add to the book.

  9. You guys got it easy 🙂 If Mrs. Jamieson wants a tourist visa (not as part of a tour group) then Jamieson may have to post a 50,000 kuai bond with the Australian Consulate in Shanghai. “To cover the cost of tracking her down and deporting her”. Sheesh. My list of paperwork is 6 times longer than yours, so there 🙂 Chinese are sometimes legendary at overstaying visas hence the Mafan……

  10. Good luck with the interview, Ryan and maggie. However, as my hometown of Toronto is now the main destination in Canada for mainland Chinese immigrants/visa students I can tell you that although it is a royal pain in the ass to gather and prepare the paperwork, it is to prevent people from overstaying their visas which I personally know of 3 people in the past who have done so. Young Chinese are THE main candidates for overstaying their visas or migrating illegally. There’s an interesting Time magazine article on it here:,9171,1609512,00.html

  11. @Matt: Best of luck to ya man.

    @Jamieson: You walked to school uphill both ways didn’t you. 😉 jk. That sucks though.

    @Dez: I completely agree and understand why they’re doing it. However, there must be ways to tie the security of their return to someone and cut down on some of the bullshit.

    This what I meant by it making me feel like a criminal. It feels like I need to prove my wife is innocent of something she didn’t commit.

  12. The letter from (the ex-pat’s) work helps, as things in China still seem to hinge on getting vouched for by employers (up until 4 years ago Chinese people needed letters from employers to get married or divorced)… remnants of the old state-run system. The foreign Consulates seem to be all into this vouching apparatus too. So far as finances go, when my wife and I went to Canada we had nothing in the bank but got her parents to deposit a fair sum in her name into a fixed-term deposit (i.e. that we could not access until after we came back). If you don’t own property, that’s the best way to convince them that you’re coming back.

    Incidently, I was a bit sloppy in doing my wife’s last application to go to Canada. I printed a form from the Consulate website (which is hopeless and confusing) that you can use to make sure the pictures you provide are the correct size. Ours were more or less on target, so I took in the application and was told that they weren’t up to par.

    Needless to say I was seething and started to argue, asking their reasons for the nonsense. “So that at the border crossings the person entering is identifiable,” I was told.

    What? Like customs officials are going to have those applications scanned into computers all over the country. Fuck that. So I asked to speak to the Consul General… yep, I rolled the dice. He came out, I explained the situation and he came at me with this: “We’re in the process of switching over to biometrics in the coming years and this is one of the steps to get there.”

    I almost laughed. Canada? Biometrics….HAHAHAHAHA, maybe in a decade. I’m sure my wife’s picture being 2mm too short is really going to affect that one.

    Actually both the visa officer and the Consul were very nice and professional but it was obvious they were going to stick to their rules… except they let it slip that they do have discretion!!! So use the damn discretion already.

    Back in line, the very next morning with re-sized pictures… another trip to the Consulate.

    Good luck, and check the picture size.

  13. Haha, yeah that picture size thing I thought was a bit much, but having had about a thousand little passpor-sized photos taken here in China, and seeing the variation in quality, size, positioning – I can understand a need for some sort of consistency across the board/border.

    I thought ours was a bit small, but it went through – so… meh.

  14. Actually both the visa officer and the Consul were very nice and professional but it was obvious they were going to stick to their rules… except they let it slip that they do have discretion!!! So use the damn discretion already.

  15. Does anyone have any recent experience with this? Remember when Prime Minister Harper was in China 6 months ago, there was an agreement made with China to further open for tourism.

    I am looking to take my Chinese girlfriend back to Canada for 1 week. I would be OK with posting a bond or do whatever is required.

    Any advice would be appreciated

    • Nic: Hows your application going ? Were you able to find out anythin regarding that agreement and has processes been laxed?

  16. Immigration on a whole is very beneficial to Canada and its residents. History tells repeatedly that it is human kind that loses its privileges. Immigration is good for Canada and its people in any way you consider but the undue advantage taken by a few people in the name of refugee act bestowed by Canadian government is being highly misused. We have to wait and see how far Canada can allow people in the name of refugees. Of course, humanitarian concerns are to be given the highest priority for human kind’s development and survival but misuse of a system is highly deplorable. Let us all pray that the gates of immigration be not closed for all those good people and eligible aspirants just because of the refugees who infiltrate this country and can be a bigger and unsolvable problem. As of now Canada is large in heart and resources.

  17. Canada immigration people should be on video-tape. My wife went for her visa to hong kong, the officer was determined to reject her from the outset. why do not they let us use a poly-graph test. Proof we are legit married. They abuse their authority. , Now she want to come canada visit me, that will be a no – way issue.
    We will keep trying, any suggestions?

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