To book an appointment at the U.S. Consulates in China to apply for a visa, normally the applicant must purchase a card with a PIN number at CITIC Bank and then call the Visa Information Call Center. PIN cards cost 54 RMB for 12 minutes of phone time or 36 RMB for 8 minutes.
From May 5 through May 15, our law firm called the Visa Information Call Center daily, using up a number of PIN cards, but each time we were told that no appointment was available at all for any future date.
This problem is not new. It was listed as a matter of concern in the American Chamber of Commerce in Chinaâ€™s 2008 White Paper covering visa issues.
This monthâ€™s 10-day freeze on booking appointments in Beijing was explained by one visa section official as follows:
The Embassy has scaled down its workload considerably this week. Originally, it was because of crisis management training for our staff ahead for the Olympics. Then a real crisis occurred with the earthquake [in Sichuan], so we have fewer people available to interview.