To quote Monty Python: “I spit on your British Queen” – this is exactly what I felt like doing a few weeks ago – except that Queen E was probably less at fault than the corrupt Department of Home Affairs officials that have rendered the South African passport an item of international suspicion and contempt.
Even though my husband is a British passport holder and I have two step-children who live and work in the UK that have British passports and even a sister that has been in the UK for the last 20 years and also has a British passport, my little forest-green travel document has the misfortune of being labelled “potentially fake” by the British powers that be and I now need a visa to visit my family in the UK.
To make matters worse, I had to apply for this visa in Shanghai, with the clock ticking towards the 90-day deadline by which we have to exit the borders of China.
– So far I have avoided writing about the inherent complexities of our being able to live in China – one day I will have to summon up the courage to do so –
Until then, let me just say that we can only stay in China for a maximum of 90 days at a time. When the 90 days are up, we have to leave the country, go through border control, do a u-turn, and then we are allowed back in – for another 90 days. Unless our annual visa has expired, in which case we have to return to South Africa to restart the application process. [My husband would be able to apply from Hong Kong…..but once again, my little forest green book is not treated with equal importance and significance as his maroon one!]
I digress…I had to apply for my UK visa in the Shanghai office of the agency to which the UK consulate has outsourced the screening process. Initially I tried to apply online – you would think, that in this enlightened age, an online process would be quicker and more efficient, or am I alone in that thinking?
After filling in a 15 page questionnaire, which including questions about my now deceased parents that were South African, not British, and obtaining invitations letters and copies of the passports of all my British family members, I came to the part where I was informed that the nature of my application required that I make a personal appointment.
The earliest available slot for said appointment was in 3 weeks’ time! Only about a week after we would be deported for exceeding our visa restrictions.
I threw my toys (again) and was told (in more polite terms) – Suck it up! So my husband persuaded me to relinquish my passport, not sure if I would see it again before I was escorted onto a plane heading back to SA for overstaying my welcome in China. He reckoned that, being British, he had some clout at the consulate 🙂 and if necessary would track it down to help me to get out of the country. A couple of phone calls and emails, he acknowledged that he didn’t have as much influence as he would like. The Chinese employee at the embassy – Harry – was not interested in our problem. So passed a week of uncertainty and inability to book tickets to….anywhere!
The good news is that the story has a happy ending and a week later the visa was approved and the little green book was back in my very grateful hands. We flew out of China on 2nd June (1 day before deadline)….