In order to apply for my work Z-visa (discussed in Step 4), I first needed to get two important forms from my employer, Tsinghua University:
- Invitation Letter: A formal letter from my Tsinghua inviting me to work there starting in August 2009,
- Work Permit: A form that gives government approval to Tsinghua to have me apply later for what is called a Foreign Expert’s License.
Getting these two one-page documents involved a slew of paperwork. It also involved a lot of guessing and checking on my part because the process for getting these two documents was extremely confusing and unclear. In the defense of my HR Director, I found out once I got here that all of the processes were changing around her and she was not being given good information either. So she was definitely doing the best she could do. However, that didn’t make it any easier at the time.
Even though most of these requests arrived in different emails at different times, some were easy enough to fulfill:
- Email a copy of my passport, college diploma, and TEFL certification
- Send six passport photographs (Walgreens Stop #2!)
- Provide a letter of recommendation
- Provide a letter of release from MPA HR
(this request was rescinded after I explained that was not customary here and would require more time than was given me.)
The worst confusion and frustration came from completing the health examination. The biggest issue was the lack of clear expectations. My HR Director’s first email to me on the subject said simply, “Take health examination from public hospital in US and mail results to me.” After sending her a clarifying email, she said a “normal public physical” would do.
Still skeptical, I did as I was told and got a normal US physical at my Health Partner’s clinic. I had to be very careful during this exam and not give away that this was for getting a job overseas. If they found out, I would be charged for it because I had a high deductible health plan. Instead I just played it like I wanted my routine physical and needed a copy for my personal records.
When I emailed her the 2 pages of report, she emailed me back a few days later and told me that it wasn’t what they needed. I was not surprised, but I was a bit frustrated. She said that the government had told her they needed the official form and that I should just ask at the hospital for it. Doubtful that they would have this form at a normal clinic, I decided to be proactive and look through the Chinese embassy website. I found a hidden form that looked similar to what I might need. I emailed it to her and asked her to confirm that it was right, which she did.
Having the right form did not mean that it made sense. From the US medical system’s perspective, the form was confusing and open to a lot of interpretation. It asked for an EKG, HIV, Syphilis Test, chest X-ray, and vision test on the same sheet. Doctors asked me what they were supposed to write, and I tried my best to think like a Chinese bureaucrat. Explaining my situation, I pleaded with them to do everything possible to lower the costs of the tests, given that the tests were all voluntary (indeed unnecessary) and that I would need to pay for them since I was on high-deductible insurance. They seemed to understand my plight, and to this date I have only received bills for about $150 of tests when it could have been a lot more.
After going through multiple appointments to complete these bureaucratic forms, I scanned and emailed them to my HR Director. She said that she actually needed the originals, which meant that I had to go back to the office and pick up originals. When I got home that night I found another email from her saying that they also needed an “official stamp” from the hospital. Rather than trying to explain that we don’t use stamps anymore, I just sucked it up, went in again the next day and got the secretary to stamp all of the forms with the clinic address stamp.
Finally ready to go, I put everything (including a copy of my x-ray) into oversized mail and shipped it express to China. That cost about $20 itself. Luckily, everything was fine for HR to get the forms it needed, but something in the back of my mind told me I wasn’t done problem-solving the health exam issue yet. I would later be proven right, but that’s a story for a later step.
The good news is that after two months and all this hard work, I received an email with the two documents from Tsinghua University attached. The only problem was that the word document didn’t open correctly on my computer. So I had my colleague open it for me and print it. I later scanned a copy at home for my records and for my upcoming visa application.