Would a Foreigner Complain about Chinese Visa Problems Through the “Petitioning” System?

Reportedly an American, Julie Hamm, may be the first foreigner to avail herself of China’s petition (信访) system. This is worth mentioning on this immigration law blog because eventually applicants for Chinese visas who run into dead ends with formal legal channels will also turn to the petition system.

Carl Minzer gives a brief explanation of the petitioning system:

‘[P]etitioning’ [is] a traditional means of seeking justice firmly rooted in Chinese history. Defined broadly as an effort to “go past basic-level institutions to reach higher-level bodies, express problems and request their resolution,” petitioning includes a variety of practices that parallel, overlap, and in some cases replace formal legal channels. These practices have survived into the post-1949 People’s Republic of China in the form of citizen petitioning of numerous “letters and visits” (xinfang) bureaus distributed throughout all Chinese government organs, including the courts.

Development of a modern legal system over the past two decades has not eliminated these petitioning practices and institutions. Formal Chinese legal institutions have developed internal means of accommodating petitioning behavior. Since the 1990s, Chinese authorities have also passed a web of regulations to govern both petitioners’ practices and the operation of national, provincial, and local xinfang bureaus.

According to an AP story, Ms. Hamm turned to petitioning due to a grievance that her fiance has been unjustly jailed since June 2009 on trespassing charges.

The story points out the shortcomings of the petitioning system. Petitioners can try for years to bring their cases to the attention of Beijing authorities but get nowhere. Some are grabbed off the streets and sent home by police from their home provinces who don’t want news of local injustices reaching  Beijing. Some petitioners are even held in unofficial detention centers known as “black jails.”

Hamm has been “spared the rough treatment Chinese petitioners often receive, [but] the results are no different. She finds official suspicion, indifference and the desire that complainers would simply go away.”

I’d welcome any reader comments about whether it may be useful for a foreigner to make complaints about China visa issues through the petitioning system.

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