The A-Holes of History: Taiwanese Immigration and Foreign Affairs (AKA: That Time Geoff got Deported)

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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:

Taiwan to Geoff: Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out!

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. Awesome.

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.


Friday night in Lan Kwai Fong

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.

Unluckily, there was no blue sky during my weekend of exile

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!


Home sweet tropical home!

13 thoughts on “The A-Holes of History: Taiwanese Immigration and Foreign Affairs (AKA: That Time Geoff got Deported)”

  1. What a crazy story! A few months ago, when Brent and I fly into Italy, they didn’t stamp our passports at all – just waved us through. I thought it was weird, but I figured it didn’t matter. Then we when we tried to leave Europe after 90 days (like the responsible travelers that we are), the border official started freaking out because there was no stamp on either of our passports, and therefore no record of how long we’d been there. Luckily, I still had the ticket stubs from our flight into Europe, which ended up saving us a huge hassle.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Jessica! That is a crazy story – I have never had that happen, and it sounds like you guys were lucky that you still had the ticket stubs. Yikes! I guess it is a lesson in “passport holder beware” to make sure you always get the proper entrance stamp or visa. Insanity! Glad to hear everything worked out for you and Brent, and thanks for reading!

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  4. Hi. I am currently in Philippines. Was on a spousal ARC. Western Wife. Was seen at a kindergarten when I visited my wife. ARC got confiscated . Got a stamp in my passport. “The bearer of this passport has to leave the R.O.C before…”
    Tried to apply in Philippines for a student visa. Not to Study Chinese but a Master degree. Had all the letter of acceptance and even a TUITION WAVER for two years. Had the study plan and Autobiography. and some other documents.
    Visa was denied without reason. When I asked a few questions . All I got was ” I don’t know”
    Will I have better luck in Hong Kong. Do you have any opinion about this. Should I get a new passport. Will this be helpful ?
    When I apply in Hong Kong. Should I say that I was seen at a kindergarten. Should I mention that I was denied my visa in Philippines?

    Any info will be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for your help.

    1. Geoff Matthews

      Hi Frank, it’s hard to say if you will have better luck in HK. Many of the expats who frequently renewed their visas said they were becoming increasingly difficult. I got the same stamp in my passport containing the same message and had some grief coming and going but not terrible. Perhaps in HK they are a bit more familiar with expats but they will not actually issue your visa just an approval slip that you present when you arrive in Taiwan. The school I worked for were helpful in that they gave me a copy of my contract and an invitation letter to show them. In addition to your acceptance letter, can the school generate an invitation letter as well? Anyway, before you buy a ticket to HK maybe call the Foreign Affairs Department in Taiwan for guidance. But if you do get a new passport DO NOT lie on the visa application if they ask if you have been kicked out because it’s all recorded and they will already know – this happened to a friend of ours and he was banned for a year before he could even reapply.

      1. Geoff. That helps a lot. Thanks. especially the part about not lying. and the ref helps too. I am thinking a new passport is not gonna help much. ? any opinions on this ?

        I came to Hong Kong. And I was told that it is too early to apply for a Student Visa. You can only apply up TWO months in advance. Which means I am stuck in Hong Kong for another 3 weeks.
        Let’s hope this is reason phillipines denied my visa. and not that I was seen at the kindergarten.

        So you are saying your friend had only the middle stamp ( in the pic above ) ( bearer of this pp has been notified to depart…) . He did have the NO RETURN stamp.

        Is that what a deportation stamp looks like ? ( the middle one )

        What would a invitation letter consist of. ? Just a letter that welcomes me to the university. How much different is that from the acceptance letter ?

        I really appreciate all this help. Thank You very much.

        1. * it was you with the stamp. not your friend. . sorry. ok . and you had both the . please leave and the don’t come back stamp. ok. with different reasons though.

          If you can give some insight on my other questions . That will be greatly appreciated. Thanks a lot.

          1. Don’t lie about the visa denial in Phillipines. But what about being seen at the kindergarten ?
            I can say I was just visiting my wife. But they already made me sign a form in Taiwan that I worked there. uhmmm.. .
            I am thinking . YES to being denied a visa.
            NO to have you ever worked illegally.

            Any help will do.
            I really want to do this Masters Degree.

          2. Don’t lie about the visa being denied in Phillipines. But what about that they saw me at the kindergarten ?
            while visiting my wife. But they already made me sign a form in Taiwan that I worked there. uhmmm.. .and I have payed a 30K NTD fine. and the school paid about 170K NTD fine.

            I am thinking .
            YES to being denied a visa.
            NO to have you ever worked illegally.

            Any help will do.
            I really want to do this Masters Degree.

          3. I’m not really in a position to offer useful advice. It sucks that you signed that as it seems they can really hold that against you for any reason they wish. My only suggestions would be to keep on the Foreign Affairs Department, see if your school can provide any assistance, and if not, see if can defer until this is dealt with. I can’t really provide any help but I do wish you sincere luck in figuring this all out.

  5. Thanks
    I am gonna call the officer in FengYuan who worked the case tomorrow.
    As he is the one who said. ” You can apply again for a visa to Taiwan. Don’t worry. ”
    So we”ll see what that phone call brings up>

  6. Here is my update.
    short story. Visa denied . have to wait at least six months.
    let me elaborate.
    Hong Kong was so much nicer than Phils. Even got a refund. and a sorry visa denied letter.
    It is useless for me to go back after six months. As I only want to study.
    Oh here is a tip. If you apply for a student visa You cannot do so more than 2 months in advance.
    Hopefully I can get back into Taiwan one year from now. Won’t have the tuition waver anymore. This sucks the most.
    What did we learn here. DON’T work at kindergartens. You never know when some spiteful teacher will call the immigration cops.

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