A strong dose of visa bureaucracy

For everything else there’s MasterCard. But for a Kazakh visa, you need to wade through a morning’s worth of bureaucracy.

The Kazakhstan Embassy in Beijing is in the sub-section of the diplomatic quarter reserved for countries that cause your mother concern: Libya, Lebanon, Iran, Ukraine. We arrived early because the scant information we’d been able to find online suggested we could be in for a long wait. We were there by 8am for a 9am opening and I counted eighteen Chinese visa seekers in the queue ahead of us. A sign ominously advised that overnight queuing was forbidden.

It's about 9am when this snap is taken. There's maybe a dozen Chinese in front of us, and forty or so behind.
It’s about 9am when this snap is taken. There’s maybe a dozen Chinese in front of us, and forty or so behind.

When the Embassy opened it turned out our foreigner status meant we could jump to the head of the line. Presumably that’s a concession to the fact that we wouldn’t easily be able to come back day after day if we didn’t get an appointment.

By the time we left there must have been more than a hundred Chinese loitering about the otherwise pristine street. When we left we were sad to see that the woman who had kindly shared her parasol with Fiona looked unlikely to get a look in that day. The locals in line must have really wanted a visa. The Beijing sun was baking, probably about the temperature you want your oven to be when you’re cooling a pavlova.

Shortly after 9am we lost our front of line position, and a decent chunk of our sanity. We’d downloaded our application form from the Embassy website but the embassy official said it wouldn’t do. “Old form, need new one” he said. The new form was identical in every way to the old save for one thing: it was double sided. I practiced my best photocopier sound as we walked in the direction of a vaguely described hotel. The reception desk correctly interpreted my buzzing and provided us with further vague directions towards a business centre. We got there, got the copies we needed and headed back to the Embassy.

Our interviewer was Third Secretary of the Embassy. He spoke English well and muttered in Kazakh to himself. I’m left imagining that most of our friends who work for New Zealand foreign affairs spend their days doing basically what he did: interviewing people who needed a visa to visit their friend. His questioning was pretty thorough – where were we going, when and why? – and at one point it even stretched to an inquisition as to why our  drivers license are different colours.

Paperwork done we reached stage three of the process, a trip to a bank a few blocks away to pay the quite reasonable fee. By the time that was done it was basically lunchtime but, as much as we might bemoan the undue bureaucracy, we still got an express service relative to the dozens who didn’t get so much as a look inside the Embassy.

Our application should be processed in a week. Without the passport we need to board trains or register for accommodation we’ll be waiting for it here in Beijing. Luckily there’s bundles to see, and a whole new Chinese cuisine to get acquainted with.

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