The last few days have been pretty crazy.
The story begins on last Wednesday afternoon when we got paid. Our boss gave us our pay, but charged us 1000¥ for the visa. I was not happy about this for various reasons.
Firstly, that I did not have my visa yet, and I never pay for something before I get the goods in China. Secondly, I was not convinced that the visas they were getting were the correct visas or genuine. Mike – who has already got his visa – does not have the red Foreign Experts Certificate book. I know for a fact that we should have this along with the Residence permit for foreigners sticker in the passport. When I challenged my boss about this, she said that they were no longer issuing such a red book. I did not believe this for one second. I know that the FEC is being changed, but I also know that this is not until 2006. I also know other teachers who have recently got theirs.
I then said is this a business visa, F visa, but my boss was adamant and insisted that the FEC no longer was issued and that this was the correct visa.
I asked where was my passport, do you have it? I need it back. She replied with saying that it’s still with the PSB. Still with the PSB for 2 months ?(we had all given her our papers at the beginning of September) Why have you taken so long to do this? Her answer didn’t make any sense. She said because your visa doesn’t expire until 6th November, so we only started the process yesterday. So then why did you keep on telling for the last two months that my visa was being processed at the PSB – and that you didn’t have it? Anyway to cut this short, she continued to lie. Even concocting a story that the officer in charge of issuing visas was on holiday for 15 weeks in Germany!!!
So, we all took out pay – thankful that we got anything – and left. I then decided that for me at least, enough was enough. I called her office and gave her an ultimatum. You will have my passport – with or without visa – in my hand by 1pm this afternoon. Failing this, I am calling informing my embassy that you are withholding a
government document. This proved to be a very bad thing to do.
The day after this, I also found out from a close colleague of mine that they were using foreign passports to buy cars, because with a foreign passport you can pay half the amount of tax. Some of the other foreign teachers agreed to this (why?? clearly blinded by money) for the poor sum of 2000RMB. My friend refused. He was then asked to meet with my boss, in the back of a blacked-out-Audi (the car of choice in Changchun for commie officials) to discuss this.
What happend next is disgraceful, and could only happen in a country like China.
In the front seats of the car were two shady looking people, that were introduced our our boss’s boss.
Mike was then handed a document indicating that a car had been bought ( a Mercedes Benz no less) for 100,000 US Dollars- he was told that he must sign this to confirm the sale of the car. Naturally he refused, yet they insisted to the point where they said – if you don’t sign this, we’ll fire you and cancel you visa. He still refused and left the car.
So on Friday I spent most of the day at the police station explaining the situation. (Another mistake) The officer was very detailed and methodical in his questioning of me, I was initially quite impressed with this. He had on his desk a huge file with my passport on the outside, covered in various post-it notes. He said that who ever had applied for this was illegal, he showed us fake business licences, and other forged documents used for the application. He was most displeased with this, and asked me exactly who my boss is and for what company she ran. I gave him all the information he wanted, and this ended up taking a full 4 hours to complete.
He said – (only in china!! ) – that I should continue working for the university, as if i stopped it would prejudice me, as i would have broken the contract!!!! Despite the fact the contract was already illegal!!! He said come back on Monday morning to collect your passport, and he said he’d give us a few days to arrange a new visa. I felt quite pleased at the outcome of this, and naively thought justice might actually be done.
Come Monday the situation had turned on its head. For some reason unknown to us – we were now dealing with a different police officer, very senior and sinister looking.
His first question was ‘Where did you work last before’ then ‘Why did you work for this company’ then ‘How old is your boss’. This line of questioning was irrelevant and a waste of time. It was as if he was trying to give the perception of legitimacy. It was at the moment, that I started to regret coming to the police in the first place. Now, I could see what his game was – he was now accusing us of negligence for deciding to work for this company, because they are illegal. Despite the fact that we, before signing the contract, asked to see the licence to hire foreign teachers, and visas in others passports s proof of their status. And of course they said, over and over again they were legal to employ foreigners. Anyway this policeman was pining the blame on us, when the policeman on Friday said we had nothing to worry about.
He then said that because the company is illegal, YOU are illegal and so the contract is illegal. Therefore the contract is terminated by the government of the PR China. Therefore you are fired. But the company is free to continue trading – It still has at least 7 other foreigners working illegally for it – this was becoming a stitch-up. The stench of corruption was overpowering.
So because we (myself and a colleague) went to the police, about the illegal use of foreigners’ passports – in effect being forced to commit a criminal act, or face possible deportation for not having a valid visa – WE WERE WRONG!
Of course, i hear you say ‘ but this is China, you should have expected this’ – and I know that this is a danger of coming to a country riddled with corruption and the lack of a basic rule of law. But, I never thought anything like this could happen, and I never assumed it would have such serious consequences.
This is where the story turns really nasty. Now, the police (FYI they are the police at the Renmin Guangchang station, foreign affairs unit, Changchun; a certain Mr li.) have done this, I have no visa. my visa is void. and being China – this is completely MY FAULT!! So the police said they would give us a few days to find new jobs, whereupon the new employer can get a new working visa issued. Straight forward you might think, however the police refuse to hand over our passports – saying they are doing us a favour – by giving us time to find a new job. And so the new employer has to phone them directly to apply for the visa – i have been told that this is highly irregular.
I had a new job lined up at another university i had been working closely with for a few months, and they offered me a position. However, of course, they needed my passport to start the application process and to get this they had to call the police station.
I received a reply from the university FAO office that they could no longer offer me the position. What the Hell! WHY??? – apparently they got a call from their superior telling them not to hire me.
In other words, I was, and still am being screwed. I now know that my former employer has very serious guanxi (connections) in this city, and i suspect that they are now being used to make my friends and my own life, as difficult as possible.
Another strange thing which happend, is that the police introduced me to a company called TianShuo. (They too have serious guanxi with the PSB here ) I know what a disgusting reputation this company has, but didn’t tell them of this. (BTW – They are known to illegally withold passports, and generally give foreign teachers a really hard time.) They showed me a contract. I have studied contract law as part of my degree, and I can safely say that this is BY FAR the most unfair, one sided contract i have ever seen in my life.
Anyone who would sign such a document must either have a gun held to their head, or be just be plain stupid.
So at the moment life has suddenly become really difficult. I have asked for help from everyone I know here, and many have said either leave the province or the country (!), and start again. I don’t want to do this, as i like it here – and i don’t want those bastards to win.
I have also got legal advice on this matter from some professionals, and sadly as i thought, the law is worthless.
I have to thank all of my students who have been absolutely brilliant in supporting me throughout this difficult situation, in giving me advice and helping me in what I should do. I owe you all.
You’re maybe thinking why I haven’t gone to my embassy about this yet; well this is my last resort. If I go there, I will get my passport back, but it will cause me problems in being able to stay in the country. And I’m not quite that desperate yet!!!
I now have a policy – when money is involved – to judge chinese people guilty until proven otherwise, this way I protect my own interests first