For those following my movements on Instagram, you might have noticed that I am currently in China for a short term assignment. Murphy's Law being always faithful to itself, my preparation over the last few months for this STA was everything but smooth. Of course, things being as they are in a large global organization, no one was really aware of the process to follow to support me in this preparation. Fingers were cross-pointed at each departmental branch while I was struggling with figuring out the steps to prepare my travel. On top of that, I am sure you can imagine how complex the administrative process to obtain a Chinese visa could be. Add to this the good old' German bureaucracy and you've got yourself a very elaborate mayhem cocktail. Those of you who know me well also know that I am a very tenacious person when it comes to wanting something. It's just in the DNA of a Project Manager to oil cogs in order to get shit done and insist to get the answers you need for achieving your objective. As you can imagine, having the opportunity to fulfill my dream and expand my knowledge by spending three months in Chinese factories was all I ever wanted as part of my career development. And so I have decided to let both parties try and figure out each other’s roles and responsibilities as I initiated the visa application process on my own.
First order of business: collect requirements. As part of those requirements was the validity of a passport for at least six (6) months. Mine was expiring in five (5)... A parallel process was then also initiated to renew my passport. I collected all required documents - including freshly taken portrait pictures and other documents acknowledging of my residency in Germany - and headed to Munich to the Consulate of Canada. Among the information available online, I found out that it was possible to keep your current passport while requesting a new one. In my case, it was crucial that I kept mine for my upcoming Business Travel in Turkey. Of course, once I got to the Consulate, the employee specified that this process was only available while renewing your passport on Canadian territory. I could not renew my passport just yet... So, he advised me instead to keep my passport, go to Turkey and renew it upon my return to Germany. He also proposed to send the documents through express mail to his attention and he assured me that he would personally take care of it. God, I miss the Canadian customer service! The process normally takes six (6) weeks at the Embassy of Canada in Berlin. Luckily, the lead time at the Canadian Consulate in Munich was much shorter as they receive much less requests. In order to expedite the process as much as I could, I went to the post office the second I landed. My new passport indeed arrived within one week and it is now valid for ten (10) years.
With my new passport in hand, I could now apply for a Chinese visa... or at least I thought so. I immediately went to my administrative assistant who is always so helpful with these types of requests. The usual process to follow while applying for a visa is normally done through an agency. It acts as a business partener for those types of requests for all employees. I noticed on their list of requirements that I also needed a residence permit to be valid for at least six (6) months. For those who don't know, the expiration date of a residence permit is typically matched with the expiration date of your passport. As mentioned above, my passport was valid for five (5) months before having renewed it. This means I now needed to also renew my residence permit. Note that there was no mention whatsoever of a residence permit minimum validity on the Chinese Consulate's website. But, I decided to initiate the renewal process nonetheless.
And yet another list of documents to gather in order to apply for a residence permit extension at the Auslanderbehörle (Foreigners' Office). I asked HR to prepare a letter acknowledging of my employment status. The next day, I showed up at the Foreigners' Office at 7:45am (although it only opened 10:00am) only to find that a large group of people was already ahead of me. The Office normally opens at 8:00am, accepts on Tuesdays at 10:00am. Therefore, a large group of people thinking that it opened at 8:00am as usual showed up too early and created this long wait ahead of me. Of course, there was no queueing system whatsoever. It looked much more like a camp waiting for a delivery of food supplies by the Red Cross. So I queued for 3.5 hours. When I finally got to the desk, they lady told me in a very robotic way that I could not renew my residence permit just yet, as I am currently not in the two-month window prior to the expiration date. German Bureaucracy... She also suggested that I write an email to the Officer directly and see if he could treat my case in priority. Of course, I wrote this email in English. To this day, I still did not receive any response from his part. Thank you very much for treating my case in priority, although I stated the mention 'URGENT' in the email's subject.
Although I did not manage to renew my residence permit just yet, I still applied for the Chinese visa through the agency. Of course, they sent my documents back and refused to apply on my behalf as I was not fulfilling "their" requirements. Again, note that the validity period of the residence permit was not a requirement from a Chinese perspective. In other words, the agency's visa application process was more demanding that the one from the Chinese Visa Application Service Center (CVASC) itself. German Bureaucracy... So, now I cannot benefit from the agency's service and have to apply myself. Unfortunately, the CVASC do not offer the possibility to apply remotely or send the documents by mail. This implies that I once again need to go to Munich in person.
At this point in time, I am now two weeks away from my planned departure to China and yet, still no visa or flight ticket at sight. So, I submitted the CVASC online application form and booked an appointment. On Wednesday, June 21 of 2017, I took my courage with two hand and hopped on the first bus to Munich. All documents seemed to be in order, but I had no guarantee that I would indeed get my visa granted. My follow up appointment to pick up my passport (hopefully with a visa in it) was planned for the following Monday (e.g. D-Day minus five (5). On Monday, June 26 of 2017, I went back to the CVASC in Munich and received my passport with a multiple entry business visa valid for nine (9) years! You can certainly imagine the relief that I felt when I say the expiration date on my visa!
With my passport and visa in hand, the only thing missing is now to book my flight to China. You might think this process is straightforward. However, while working in a large organization, different travel policies apply depending on the nature of your assignment. This will determine which company to fly on, which class to use, which department will pay for the ticket, and other considerations adding even more complexity to a process that should normally take a few minutes - turning it into a whole endeavor on its own. German bureaucracy...
I thought I'd reach out to the HR Regional Champion (who is meant to be the go-to person for any questions we have regarding our short term assignment) and asked for more details (which he did not have). I then tried reaching out to the organizers of the program. Of course, this person who shall remain anonymous cleverly placed his vacation one week before the start of my all short term assignments. Smart! I had no choice but to do my own research. I finally managed to find the travel policy to apply to my case and forthwith asked my administrative assistant to request a flight booking following this very policy. Classic 'risk transfer' technique! All there is to do now is to wait... and wait again...
I finally received my confirmed flight booking on Friday morning, e.g. 24 hours before my planned departure. All I could think of during this whole process is whether another person would have just abandoned. Perhaps someone who is not as tenacious as an overcooked steak would have simply tendered his way out of this nonsense. Murphy's Law often resurfaces to place itself right between you and the most promising opportunities. I personally would never let a challenge - as great as it could be - demotivate me to the point that I would abandon my dream. I just have too much to win! It is then up to you to make it what you want it to be. At this specific moment comes to my mind a quote from the movie The Departed, when Frank Costello (personified by the great Jack Nicholson) says something about seizing the opportunities despite the obstacles that could come between you and your objective: "No one's going to give it to you, you have to take it!"