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September 5, 2011

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A lot in a day's work for visa officer

SITTING at the other end of a counter, Officer Wu Hao, with her ponytail hair, is easy to miss. But the petite Wu is soon recognized by the coming foreigners.

"Hello, Officer Wu, I have one question about my visa," or "Any new policies of getting long-term stay here?" are common conversations heard at the hall of the Changning District Exit and Entry Office.

Some even try to talk in broken Chinese.

The 33-year-old Wu, the leader of a seven-member team, is gentle and experienced. Donning red-frame glasses, she takes all the visa and residence permit application forms, checking the information quickly.

"Here is the first step to all kinds of visa and residence permit applications," said Wu. In the end, the visa will be approved and delivered by the city-level immigration administration authority.

To some foreigners, the officers are the people who hold their fate in their hands, deciding their stay in the country, while to others they are friends to meet regularly after getting acquainted.

The visa application office where Wu works is the busiest among 16 districts and one county citywide. It deals with more than 500 applications a day, half from foreigners.

More than 40,000 foreigners, about one-sixth of the total long-stay volume in Shanghai, live in the district, police said.

"I hope to have an extra pair of hands," said Wu, finishing her last application form in the morning. "And today is not even the peak."

Recalling the scene last year during the World Expo, Wu said the hall was so full of applicants that "an extra foot would not be allowed," with hundreds of people often lined up.

Ji Shixing, who has been here since 1996 when the office was set up, has observed a lot of change recently.

"More Chinese are going out and more foreigners are coming in," Ji said. "With the immigration policies changing with the time, they need instant guidance."

With only six application windows in use, Wu and other police officers work six days a week from 8:30am to 5pm.

"It has never occurred to me that sitting would be an enduring job," said Wu, an Anhui Province native who has worked as a police officer for four years.

The officers get two-day rests only once every seven weeks.

Even though familiar with the application processes and China's immigration laws, Wu said she at first feared she could not do the job because of the pressure.

"I even cried in secret," said the officer, who was being pressed by applicants upset over the time they had to wait and mocked by some locals who said she could not talk in the Shanghai dialect.

The officer once got into a quarrel with a foreigner who had overstayed his visa, a common problem.

"We finally got him to calm down and take the punishment before receiving his application," said Wu.

On a day off, Wu likes to unwind like anyone else. "I would like most if I can pick up my six-year-old daughter," said Wu with a big smile. Paused for a moment, Wu added, "Also shopping is great. That lets me remind myself I am a woman once the uniform is off."


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