Provided by Tom Ulmet on July 20, 2020.

 

This update is to share developments in the past month to create awareness within the government of the urgent need for teachers to receive letters of invitation to return to China.

At the beginning of July, we initiated communications with local governments of major cities who were very responsive and helpful in identifying the bottlenecks as well as the channels to go through to create awareness and understanding of the work permit situation among our member schools.  As you know, this year a new step was introduced temporarily in the form of a letter of invitation from the local Foreign Affairs Bureau to limit the number of people who can enter China. In this process, it is useful to know how things are classified. Through feedback from local government we determined that among three large major groups of foreign experts in the queue for letters of invitation, international-school teachers were included in the second group with university personnel (which is good as it enables them to be classified as foreign experts).  However, those in the second group were not to be issued until September to coincide with the start of universities. This was the major bottleneck that prevented any letters for teachers being issued. In addition, for new teachers, we learned that work permits must first be issued as usual by the local Science and Technology Bureau. However, because those work permits expire after three months, none were issued because they knew of the priority of teachers in the priority groupings and were concerned that the permits would expire before the letters of invitation could be issued. Bearing in mind that the normal processing time is 4 to 6 weeks, due to COVID-19, the process can take up to 6 to 8 weeks. Rather than inform schools of the reason for the additional delay, the lists were simply held in an ever-growing stack of requests. The chart illustrates the visa application process as an example for Beijing and is similar in other cities. You can expand the chart size by increasing the size of the document.

 

 

We then discussed the dilemma with leaders of AmCham and EuroCham in Beijing as well as some of their regional branches and obtained their immediate support in representing our cause with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). This resulted in a review of the priority of teachers in the overall re-entry system and an aperture in the administration of the policy was opened to allow small “batches” of teachers in the government list of priorities for reentry into China. By now, each school should have been informed by their local government to submit a list of teachers waiting for work permits and to prioritize them into “group/batches” of 5-10 depending on location and some schools have been receiving notice of letters of invitation issued. We now hope to increase the frequency of issuing “batches.”

Steps taken in July:

  • Collaboration with EuroCham and AmCham

  • Through local branches, contact and consultation with local governments

  • Outreach by Board members in China to local education authorities in their region

  • Sharing of member survey results with Chambers and overview presented at the following meetings

  • Representation through Chambers at special meeting with Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing

  • Representation through Chambers in special meeting with Vice-Mayor of Beijing

  • Representation through Chambers in special meeting with State Council in Beijing

Letters of Invitation should begin to flow, perhaps slowly but at least flow.

Here are important points in review of the current situation:

  • Over 80% of our members and potential members responded to the survey, the best survey return ever. Only 13 schools did not take part.

  • Results of the survey were shared immediately with those who submitted and with the leaders of the Chambers who agreed to represent us in their next meeting with MoFA last Wednesday.

  • The survey showed that in our 77 members nearly 4000 teachers and dependents are waiting to reenter or enter China to take up their employment offer.

  • The survey results were very useful in illustrating the size of the problem and creating awareness within MoFA. Up to that meeting, they had only heard from a few individual schools in Beijing.

  • Hundreds of thousands of foreign experts are waiting in the queue to reenter China and had priority in the chart created by MoFA. We have managed to create awareness of our urgency and get priority in “batches” in the first priority group.

  • The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) loosened the Five Ones Policy somewhat to allow each approved international airline to have one flight per week into one Chinese city. (See attached article)

  • There are nine designated cities that can receive international flights. (See chart below)

  • Flights must be staggered to take into account the number of quarantine hotels located in each entry city. As an example, it is reported that Shanghai has the most with 15 such hotels. If 300 passengers can be accommodated in each hotel, this means that a total of 4500 passengers into Shanghai can pass through quarantine every two weeks.

  • Allowing for 30% of seats used for required social distancing, for example an Airbus 330s that normally can carry 293 passengers is now limited to 205. This means that 4500/205 = 21 flights into Shanghai every two weeks.

  • The majority of our teachers are stranded in countries where existing commercial flights can only fly into Shanghai or Beijing. Beijing airports are closed to international flights that have been diverted to other approved cities.

 

The chart can be expanded by expanding the size of the document:

https://www.europeanchamber.com.cn/en/national-news/3188/travel_policies_to_and_from_cities_in_china

 

Summary:

  • Awareness of the impending crisis due to inability of nearly 4000 returning teachers, new teachers and their dependents has led to immediate issuing of “batches” of letters of invitation.

  • In general, letters of invitation are easier to issue to returning teachers first because all of the paperwork exists and is in order from a previous year.

  • Nearly half of the stranded teachers, returning and new, are located in the US.

  • Flights from the US to China are currently on hold and extremely limited.

  • Flight tickets are very difficult to book, and the cost has skyrocketed from some countries to as much as US$ 3000 – 5000 for an economy ticket.

  • Flights and tickets for those stranded in Europe, south east Asia and Australia/NZ appear easier to obtain.

  • It is advisable to reconsider the priorities in your “batch” request lists to those in areas where flights are readily available in order to get teachers into China as soon as possible. Giving priority to those from USA may “waste” a place in a “batch” as flights for them may not be available.

  • Consideration was given to bringing teachers in first and dependents later, but as dependents are linked to the letter of invitation, this is not possible (and in any case is better for families).

  • To get as many teachers in as possible quickly with limited flights spaces, it is advisable to give priority on your “batch” list to single teachers first.

  • Because the paperwork on returning teachers is prepared and processes more smoothly, it is advisable to give priority to returning teachers on your “batch” lists.

  • Getting nearly 4000 returning and new teachers and dependents into China on commercial flights with the Five Ones Policy in place will be an elongated time frame that could extend for months.

  • Despite the enormous strides made in opening the door for letters of invitation, interim measures will still be needed to cover classes until the flow of teachers commences.

NEWS JUST OUT

News just out that makes everything more complicated. See link: 

https://www.usnews.com/news/world-report/articles/2020-07-21/china-to-require-negative- coronavirus-test-for-arriving-travelers

5 days before departure, all foreigners must now take a COVID test and the result validated by the Chinese Embassy before boarding an aircraft for China. This will slow things down immensely. Apparently, more than five cases have been arriving on many flights and the limit is two or the airline will lose flights for a month. This will complicate things even more as it is taking as many as ten days to get a test result which would make it impossible to get the results to an Embassy and be validated 5 days before departure. There is no way to contest this decision. However, we are considering other creative options that may allow for a solution.