On the 23rd, China-briefing.com, my go-to site for current China information, flashed before me.
“From 0 a.m., September 28, 2020, foreigners with valid residence permits for work, personal matters, and reunion, are allowed enter the country without needing to re-apply for new visas.
If the above residence permits have expired – after March 28, 2020 – the holders may re-apply for relevant visas by presenting the expired residence permits and relevant materials to the Chinese embassies or consulates. The re-application must be on the condition that the purpose of the holders’ visit to China is unchanged.”
My heart rejoiced: “That’s me!!!”
But then after-thoughts of a more downcast nature had me at, “Oh. sort of.”
Problems with Visa Expiration and last-minute flights
Because my visa expires September 30, with no time to renew it once I’m in the country and quarantined, my return to China can’t fall under this category for an immediate hop-on-the-airplane entry. Even if I had a few more weeks attached, there is the problem of booking a flight from the States, mostly as there are none available at such short notice. I noticed there are a few for October but the prices are nothing less than $4,000 one way and who knows if those would be canceled, like so many of my previous flights were?
The Covid-19 Certificate of Negativity
And the second difficulty is the Covid-19 test required before departure, which would take precise planning on my end.
I have the details of that one. a) It must be done 3 days prior to departure. b). It must be a nucleic acid test with certificate of negativity. c). It must be approved of by the Chinese embassy and stamped for authenticity, carried with the passenger to the airline counter, kept continuously throughout the journey to China and presented upon departure of the plane.
Part c entails, from the USA end, scanning the test, sending via email to the Chinese embassy or consulate, waiting 24 hours for it to be sent back, then printing out for use.
All of this must be done within 3 days prior to the flight. Any missing parts mean if you have no China- approved certificate, you can’t get on the plane so there goes your booked ticket, and your money.
The College Letter and the PU Letter of Invitation
So what exactly does this lifted ban mean for me?
I have already contacted my visa agency in Chicago, a service I will be going through for all my China entry permits. Shawn, who is my contact, has been working with numerous teachers such as myself who are going back to China now that the ban has lifted. Expired Resident Permits, such as mine will be on the 30th, can be renewed for entry but require 2 letters (not one as before) of invitation.
The easy letter is the one from my college, personally inviting me to work for the school. This is a standard for any foreign teacher.
The second letter has been newly added due to the virus. That is the stickler as it is very difficult to get. It is called a PU letter (no one seems to know what that acronym stands for) and is issued by your local city’s Foreign Affairs Office (FAO). In the larger, Tier 1 cities (provincial capitals and special economic zones), this is a well-known fact and everyone seems to be familiar with the letter and the term, plus how to go about getting it.
In a Tier 3 city, which is Luzhou, I have found no one knows what a PU letter is, how to get it, where to go to get it or who to contact about it.
Being the pro-active person that I am, I already found a listing of the Foreign Affairs Office personnel in Sichuan Province (their names and phone numbers) for my school to call, ask questions and find out what a PU letter entails.
One of my college’s departmental staff English teachers, Danli, has been put in charge of my return and now has all the information I sent her to follow through with. While a bit new to the process, Danli is a very capable young woman who went to school in Great Britain for 3 years for her BA degree in English before joining our staff at the School for International Studies. Not only is her English excellent but her ability to “get things done” and stubbornly pursue problems is commendable.
If she doesn’t have the clout needed and is given the run-around by Luzhou’s government officials, she’ll find the right person at my college to forge ahead into the red-tape fray which, hopefully, will result in what is necessary for me to teach once again at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College.
The Next Steps
Once the PU letter and the school invitation letter are secured, those are sent to me, I can then fill out all the forms and, in turn, mail to my visa agency in Chicago. My agent, Shawn, will then make an appointment at the Chinese consulate (usually takes a month as the consulate appointments are limited), my paperwork should be approved, my passport visa given and I can continue to the next phase: booking a ticket, more Covid-19 papers to fill out, Nucleic acid requirement, arrival for my 2-week quarantine (hoping I don’t get the virus along the way — Yikes!) and eventually onward to my college in Luzhou.
Oh, Happy Day!
It seems like a long ways away but this opening up has me full of hope that my students will see me once again in our classroom, with my enthusiastic flair, humorous quips, flashy outfits (how I do love my outlandish color schemes, big necklaces and cool earrings!) and an unmistakably apparent love of teaching.
Let me say here I have appreciated those of you who have sent uplifting thoughts my way and words of encouragement. Keep them coming! There can never be enough.
From Illinois, here’s wishing you, as always, 平安 (ping ahn), Peace for your day and your week.