Virginia, US
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| Becky Xia

A Look at the Pros and Cons of Online Residence Permit Filings in Shanghai

Shanghai is the first city in China to introduce an online portal for residence permit applications for foreign nationals. Since the portal was set up in 2009, the Shanghai Public Security Bureau has accepted and processed over 15,000 applications each year and, according to the Bureau, the numbers are rising. Currently, the online portal only accepts first-time applications for student residence permits and renewal applications for residence permits.

For those who are unfamiliar with the online application process, there is a common misconception that applicants can get their residence permit renewed on the spot and can get their visa-labeled passport back within an hour. This myth has resulted in resistance to traditional paper lodgment, which requires passports to be kept by the Bureau for at least seven working days for processing. Applicants are even questioning the professionalism of their immigration providers if their renewals are not processed via the online portal.

It is worth noting that not all renewal applications are eligible for filing via the online portal. Renewal applications can only be lodged online if no personal or employment information has changed since the last renewal. Thus, if the employee has changed their residence address, job title or sponsoring entity, for instance, they are not eligible to lodge an online application.

Secondly, approval is not guaranteed. Once the application is successfully lodged online, the system generates a pre-assessment outcome the following day. Some applications may be rejected and cannot be processed further. The Bureau is not obligated to state the reasons for refusal and will advise the applicant to lodge again through the traditional process.

Thirdly, a visa appointment is necessary. The system automatically generates an appointment day and time and the applicant needs to attend this interview or visit the Bureau within six working days of the appointment. If the applicant cannot attend the interview within this time, the pre-approval expires and he or she has to go through the traditional process. Thus, the online application may not be suitable for applicants who are unsure about their schedules.

Finally, the online process normally requires at least nine working days from the date of lodgment. The appointment day is often nine working days from the date of lodgment and is longer during public holiday seasons and peak seasons.

When attending their appointment, the applicant needs to bring their passport, which will be returned the same day. One-hour processing is no longer available due to the volume of applications each day.

Nevertheless, one of the greatest advantages of the online application is that applicants do not have to surrender their passport to the Bureau for an extended period of time. Those that have frequent international travel only need to commit themselves to the process for one day. In fact, the Public Security Bureau encourages foreigners to utilize the online portal if altogether possible.

Again, the decision needs to be made subject to eligibility, travel needs and sensitivity to shifting schedules. It is important to understand that the online portal facilitates visa applications, but does not expedite the process. It will also be interesting to see if the portal can accommodate additional visa services in the near future.