An expired Visa in China

When I had arrived in China, I did all the registrations except the Resident Permit application. Somewhere in my mind, I was sure that I had 90 days after entering china to register for a permit. Looking at the limited money that I had when I arrived in China on 29th September 2019, and the next day to get my stipend being 31st October 2019, I had to manage my resources very carefully. And thinking that I had 90 days, somehow I felt safe. I had to focus on the pressing matters with the little money I had and not the resident permit. Big mistake, as you will learn soon.

On Monday 4th November 2019 I began the process of doing my resident permit. I was with Aubrey Kabisala one of my countrymates who was supporting me in the process.

We started at 8 am to go to the Hubei International Travelling Medical Care Centre. We spent close to an hour chasing Taxis. Only to realise that we were waiting in the wrong place. We later had to go to the main road where we managed to stop on Taxi in 5 minutes. We didn’t leave in that Taxi because the Taxi guy didn’t understand our directions. We were showing him a page, and he couldn’t make where we wanted to go.

Later we learnt that we were showing him the wrong page.

We disembarked and then made calls to a couple of friends to ask them about the directions. I called Chico Chinsenga to ask about directions. We talked about several things, and then he asked about the visa.

‘are you doing the Visa process now?’

‘Yes!’ I responded.

‘Is your visa valid? Because I think your visa might have expired.’

With confidence, I responded, I am within my 90 days.

‘Are you sure? Because you are given 30 days and not 90 days. If you have your passport with you, please open it and just verify’

I opened my passport, and there is was in clear and simple language ‘register within 30 days.’ This was the beginning of my stress.

‘If someone has an expired visa what happens?’

‘I am not sure, but you might be sent back to your country.’-he responded.

As he was telling me this, my creative mind was thinking of all the things that could go wrong. I started blaming myself, but I had to hold that for a minute and finish with the phone call first.

‘Go to the International Students Affairs Office’ and explain your situation. They should guide you on your next steps.

I took my walk back with Aubrey. Aubrey tried to share stories with me to keep me distracted but it was not working. I honestly appreciated his effort but I was in full mode blaming myself.

How could I be so stupid? Why didn’t I do this the week that I came? Why didn’t I even check my passport? Where did I get the 90 days from? I went on and on thinking and feeling like a fool. Feeling like the world’s most stupid person at that moment.

On my way to my hostel in the elevator, I started feeling dizzy. My heart pumped so fast. My bowels hurt. I had to run to the bathroom. While on the toilet seat, I sweated. Am I having food poisoning? Is this a panic attack?

Before I left my room, I made on a simple prayer ‘Jesus please help me. Jesus, I need you now more than ever.’

I went to the International Students Affairs Office where I met one lady from Ghana. She works in the office, and she is usually the go-to person for black people most of the time. I told her about my situation. To be honest, I expect her to give me a lecture, but she did not.

‘Have you done your medical test already?’ – she asked.

‘No! I want to do it today.’-I responded.

Good. I want you to leave now. Go to Hubei International Travelling Medical Care Centre today. No matter what, make sure that you get your test today, and I want you here on Wednesday.

I went straight to the Hubei International Travelling Medical Care Centre to get my medicals. The certificate takes three days, and I was told to go back on Wednesday between 2 to 4:30 pm to collect it. I went home feeling a bit relieved but I knew that the battle is not over yet.

Tuesday evening, I was down again. Thinking about everything that could go wrong on Wednesday. What if my certificate is not ready tomorrow? What if…As I was in my negative hypothetical world, I remember that I read Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. In that book, the authors talk about the three Ps, personification, permanence and pervasiveness. I had to start telling myself that, this is not entirely your fault, this will not spread to other aspects of your life, and you will get out of this. I kept repeating this in my head, and this is how I managed to get my mood back to normal. I managed to sleep peacefully.

Wednesday morning, I woke up very early and negative thoughts were back again. I tried to dismiss them but my attempts did not yield much. In my thinking, I decided to google what happens to people who get their visa expired in China? The response was simple; you get charged 500RMB every day. I calculated my days from 29th October to 6th November, and it was close to 4000RMB. Now, this is money I don’t have. My monthly scholarship stipend as a PhD student in China is 3500RMB, where am I going to get 4000RMB? I had to pray again and again. Went jogging in the morning, praying and listening to praise and worship songs. This managed to lift my mood and make me see light.

I also sent a message to my lovely wife, Tendai and told her about my feeling. She gave me a wonderful pep talk. ‘I cannot say that I understand what you are going through because that will be a lie. But I want you to know that I am here with you. You are not alone. I will also be praying with and for you’ Those words were enough to keep me going.

Wednesday afternoon, I left to get my certificate at the Hubei International Travelling Medical Care Centre. Got the first taxi that dropped me at the wrong spot. 19 RMB and time wasted. Then got a second taxi that dropped me at the right spot. I managed to arrive at 1:50 pm, and I got my certificate at around 2:05 pm. One part is done, one more to go.

I arrived at the International Students Affair Office, to ask for documents to accompany my application. This is where I got the lecture now. Not from the Ghanian lady, but the head of the school.

The lecture went for some time, and this further messed with my already fragile feelings. Deep down I was like I know that I have messed up. And what you are telling me now are things I have told myself since the day I realised my visa expired. After the lecture, I managed to get the supporting documents.

‘Go to the visa office and explain what happened. Make sure you say sorry, maybe they might not find you.’

The journey to the Wuhan Citizens Home Immigration Office was not a pleasant one. The scenery was beautiful but it is hard to appreciate the beauty in front of you when you have issues that you are dealing within your life. I kept praying all the way.

Finally arrived at Wuhan Citizens Home Immigration Office and handed over the documents. The two ladies asked me, do you know that your visa has expired? I was like, yes. Please go downstairs. Went downstairs and got into an office. The moment I walked in the lady asked, ‘expired visa?’ Yes! She took my passport and tried to open something on her PC but the system was down. She then went and took a paper, and started filling it. I didn’t even know what that was. Then she asked me to sign and my fingerprint. She handed me back my application documents and asked me to return to the second floor.

I submitted my documents to the immigration officer. In a few minutes, she gave me a ticket.

‘It’s done! Here is your ticket.’

I took the ticket went straight to check the fee. And it read 800RMB. 800RMB is the application for the resident permit. Imagine my joy when I saw that I was not fine.

Later, I learned that the paper I signed was a warning. According to the paper, my document will be ready this month-end.

My lesson from all this experience is that we as human beings make mistakes. Most of the mistakes we make unintentionally and they come with a cost. When we find ourselves in these situations, let us learn to turn to God. God is the best support system one can ever have.