Applying for a Visa for China had me a little clenched up recently. Not because of any concern that my application would be knocked back (I’m sure they’re gonna love me over there) but because the online application process is really unclear. It just meant that throughout the ordeal I wasn’t sure whether or not I was doing the right thing, and I couldn’t for the life of me switch off some worrying visions of my being marched into a dark room out the back of Chengdu Airport.
There’s nothing specifically wrong with the application process, but it takes a hell of a lot of concentration, and a heap of reading and double-checking, before you get to the finish line. It’s really wordy. Instructions are intermingled with terms and conditions. And the link to the application form itself is buried, inline, halfway down one of the lengthy pages. The key requirements are all there but you really have to tease them out.
If you search hard enough you can find a checklist intended to help you confirm you have all the correct paperwork together, though it’s a PDF on a different part of the site. One of the list items in the checklist is ‘Prepare the documents required according to the visa instructions’, followed by some blank rows in the table, but with no direction on where to look for said instructions, nor for the other bits of paperwork you need, which, it turns out, are all over the place. It’s also not clear whether the checklist itself is one of the documents you need to include in the application. It does have a signature and date field at the bottom so you have to presume that they want it, but on the other hand, the usual function of a checklist is to help the user, so making it a part of the paperwork to be submitted seems a little pointless.
Another gripe is the need to post your passport to the embassy. I’m sure this is entirely necessary, but the issue I have is that nowhere do they say for how long you’re likely to be without what is arguably the most important bit of personal paperwork you possess. No doubt it’s tricky for them to say as who knows how busy they'll be at that time, but surely they could alleviate some of the anxiety by at least giving us a worst-case timeline.
If you look carefully there’s a directive that you should send your bits and pieces by registered post, but again, if I hadn’t trawled through every word I might not have done that (if I were really stupid, I guess). The need for including a self-addressed envelope is there too, but how big does the envelope need to be? I don’t know how much paperwork is likely to come back my way. To be on the safe side I chose an A4 registered envelope (not cheap) then found that the only thing to arrive back was the passport itself, rattling round in its excessively roomy cardboard housing.
Nothing went wrong, and the missus and I will soon be hugging a panda (actually they charge a fortune for that – I intend to offer fifty bucks for a firm handshake). But here is an extremely important process that’s crying out for a clear set of instructions and a usable checklist.
I'm sure the good folk at the embassy believe the process to be really straightforward but for the user it's diabolical. My application took me well over an hour – it should have taken 15 minutes.
Serious stories about communication
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Me: Bruce Ransley
I dig a little deeper than most comms folk. From science at university, to a cold-and-wet career as a commercial diver, to working underground, and for the past 13 years as a communicator-at-large, I've had my fair share of weird experiences in all sorts of situations. It's given me a fair-to-middling grounding in all things explanatory.