You are here

Foreign Correspondents Club of China, Survey on Visa Issues, March 17, 2014

Each year, the Beijing-based organization surveys its members on visa and other issues.
March 17, 2014

The FCCC has compiled the results of this year’s annual survey of visa issues for correspondents, based on your experiences during the visa renewal season at the end of 2013. We received a record 162 responses (including 42 from non FCCC members, whom we also surveyed for the first time); thank you for your help.

In general, most correspondents (82 percent) received their new Foreign Ministry press cards within seven working days and (89 percent) their new residence visas within the 15 working days that the PSB had said would be necessary.

But this year it became more obvious than ever that the Chinese authorities abuse the press card and visa renewal process in a political manner, treating journalistic accreditation as a privilege rather than a professional right, and punishing reporters and media organizations for the content of their previous coverage if it has displeased the government.

This was clear from the way in which the authorities withheld new press cards and visas until the very last moment from all foreign employees of the New York Times and Bloomberg, which had published articles about the private finances of relatives of leading members of the government. In the absence of any official explanation for the protracted delay in the issuance of their accreditation and visas, that delay would appear to have been intended to intimidate the bureaus concerned.

“I received my press card three days before my visa expired, two hours before my dog was scheduled for quarantine and 20 hours before a removal company was scheduled to pack my belongings.”

Paul Mooney, whose professional reputation largely rests on his writing about human rights issues in China, was unable to take up the offer of a post with Reuters in Beijing because he was denied a visa in November 2013, for reasons that the Chinese authorities would not disclose.

New York Times Beijing bureau chief Philip Pan is still waiting for a journalist’s visa 22 months after he applied for one; New York Times reporter Chris Buckley has been waiting for a visa for 17 months; New York Times reporter Austin Ramzy was obliged to leave China at the end of January 2014 because the authorities had not processed the visa application which he had filed with them in June 2013.

The FCCC is disappointed that despite assurances from Foreign Ministry officials to the contrary, the Entry/Exit police refused to issue ‘fast track’ visas to reporters who needed to travel abroad urgently for professional reasons. The police insisted that they could not issue visas in less than 15 working days.

Except in two cases, the police issued such rapid visas only to applicants whose close relatives were seriously ill or who had died.

This meant that foreign correspondents were unable to travel abroad to work during the 15 working days that the police held their passports in order to stamp them with new visas.

This is an unacceptably long time for reporters with region-wide responsibilities to be unable to fulfill them. If the Chinese government wants foreign media to locate their Asian regional HQ’s in Beijing, it should ensure that correspondents are free to travel region-wide as and when they need to.

“Without my passport I was unable to travel to any stories outside China.”

“I could not report on the turmoil and protest in Bangkok.”

The survey revealed that 18 percent of respondents had difficulties renewing their press cards or visas – twice as many as in the last survey (covering the visa renewal process at the end of 2011.) Half of those who had difficulties said that they had been threatened with the non-renewal of their accreditation or visa because of their reporting.

“During the year the public security police warned me that my reporting might jeopardize my visa renewal.”

“There is evidence this was retaliation to reporting done by my publication.”

“The PSB man said ‘we could work things out quicker, but our boss doesn’t want us to’.”

None of the respondents who said that they did not receive either their press accreditation card or their visa within the officially stipulated waiting period received any explanation for the delay, other than the content of their reports.

In cases other than those which appear to be related to the content of reports, miscommunication and misunderstandings between the Foreign Ministry’s International Press Centre, which issues press cards, and the Public Security Bureau Entry/Exit bureau, which issues visas, seemed sometimes to be the cause of delays.

As China’s growing role in the world attracts increasing international journalistic attention, the FCCC urges the Chinese authorities to abide by international standards and accredit foreign journalists on the basis of professional criteria, without reference to the content of their reporting.