Ed note: Remember when I said that this blog belonged to me AND Geoff? Well, I wasn’t lying! And here Geoff is, ready to spin a true yarn about THAT TIME HE GOT DEPORTED from Taiwan! “Whaaaaaa,” you say? Deported? Don’t believe me? I give you, the passport stamp to end all passport stamps:
Without further ado, I give you The Geoff.
Pop quiz hot shot: You’re back in Asia after a long couple of years away, tucked away in the southwest corner of Taiwan catching up with buddies you haven’t seen for some time, and you receive a phone call telling you that you have 24 hours to leave the country. What do you do…WHAT DO YOU DO? Sorry for the Speed reference all you non-Keanu fans! I’ll tell you what you do! But first, the back story…
When Canadians land in Taiwan, you are issued a 30-day landing visa which permits you to stay in the country for…you guessed it, 30 days. This is a non-transferable type of visa. This means it can’t be transferred to a working permit. A tourist visa, which you must purchase beforehand, can be. The way around this is to simply land, find a job and have your employer apply for an extension which CAN be transferred to a work visa, as long as it is done within the 30 days you are allotted. That was our plan.
When we landed in Taiwan, Katie made me play a “game” she often likes to play: we each choose a different lineup at immigration, and “race” to see who gets through the lineup first. When we got through the lineup, we were inspecting our stamps and noticed that Katie was given 30 days, and I was given 90 days (which Canadians aren’t supposed to recieve). We didn’t think much of it at that point; we both found teaching jobs within a week or two of landing, and our employers set about processing our paperwork to make us legal.
Katie’s documents were processed in time, and she didn’t have any issues. I, on the other hand, presumed that 90 days meant 90 days. I have been to many countries now, and I always stay either as long as my passport says I can, or less. Simple, right? Not so much. When my employer started processing my work permit, the labour office spotted the error (the error the immigration officer had made upon my arrival) and notified the Foreign Affairs Department. The Foreign Affairs Department told my employer I was issued the wrong stamp upon arrival, and that I needed to have that stamp voided and a new stamp (30 days) issued, retroactive to the day I landed.
Herein lies the problem: I had already been in the country more than 30 days, so when the retroactive stamp was issued, I had essentially overstayed my visa. Foreign Affairs didn’t like this, and rather than working with my employer to figure out a reasonable solution — a solution to their screw up — they decided to fine me, kick me out of the country, and give me a permanent record related to overstaying my visa. Ok, what? Overstay, what? Arguments ensued between my employer and the Foreign Affairs Department, but there is no winning that battle because, put quite simply, they are total A-holes! Their fault? Did it matter? No.
They gave me 24-hours to get out of the country. I called Katie, interrupting the class she was teaching, to inform her that I would be withdrawing a large sum of money from our bank account and would be in Hong Kong until further notice.
I left on a Saturday for Hong Kong, my passport setting off an alarm at the emigration counter; more arguments ensued and at the end of it all, they gave me a full page stamp in my passport indicating I was not allowed back into the Republic of China for one year unless I returned on a working visa. What the what?
The Taiwan visa office in Hong Kong didn’t open until 9am Monday morning, so I had a panicked weekend to kill in the city. I spent Saturday night over a lonely couple of beers in Lan Kwai Fong, a party and bar area of the central district.
I spent the days strolling the streets from the Western District to Central, past Admiralty to Wan Chai, where the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre is, and on to Causeway Bay, and finally Stanley Market. When I was tired, I took the tram; when it poured, I stopped at a coffee shop and watched business men and women running to and fro with newspapers over their heads like they do in the movies. Luckily, Hong Kong is full of breathtaking views and stunning architecture with just enough English to be comfortable, but with all the Asian randomness and wonderfulness thrown in. It has a good mix of old and new world.
The weekend over, I arrived at the Taiwan visa office at 9:01am on Monday, took a number and waited. I was armed with every document I could get my hands on: an invitation letter from my employer, a government-approved copy of same with an official stamp of approval, an approval letter from the labour board and a copy of my contract. When my number was called, they informed me they don’t issue working visas at their office, only resident or tourist visas. Crap! Double crap! I decided to apply for a resident visa and hope for the best.
I returned at 4pm that afternoon to pick up my visa, and it got even better! What they didn’t tell me earlier is they don’t actually ISSUE visas of any kind. They simply give you an approval document, stapled inside your passport, to receive a visa when you get to Taipei, with instructions about where to go once you land at Taoyuan Airport to pick up your actual visa. Ummm, I’m not going to Taipei, I’m going to Kaohsiung. They didn’t like that. So now I’m in Hong Kong, with a full-page passport stamp telling me I can’t get back into Taiwan without a working visa, and all I’ve got is a paper telling me I could get a resident visa if I went to Taipei. What the what?
I threw caution to the wind and decided to return to Kaohsiung. The immigration agent hummed and hawed, lectured me, and eventually let me in with strict orders to sort out my paperwork within one week. Agreed. My documents eventually got processed, and I got my Alien Resident Certificate (ARC), work permit and a national health card.
Although I have no fondness for how the situation played out or how it was handled, I kept my composure through it all. As much as I wanted to play the blame game, raise hell and start pointing fingers, customs agents and Foreign Affairs Departments are not people you want to piss off. With a quick click of a mouse they can make any future travel plans pretty miserable. So I shut my face, and within 72 hours was back home, with my legal documents in place!