One of my Uyghur friends, let's give him the initials TR, recently won an all-expense paid trip to Malaysia in a national English speech contest sponsored by CCTV, the major state television broadcasting company in China. The other winners, none of whom were from Xinjiang, procured passports and visas easily in their home provinces. In Xinjiang, however, minorities who request passports often meet hurdle after hurdle when trying to leave the country. Strangely, Uyghurs who reside outside of Xinjiang seem to have little difficulty with travel documents, as evidenced by another friend who got her passport in Jiangsu Province, without any concrete plans to go abroad. The agency here often requires minorities to secure a foreign visa before applying for a passport. Of course, this is an exercise in futility because one cannot receive a foreign visa without a passport in the first place!

Anyway, TR presented an official letter from CCTV documenting his upcoming Malaysia trip, but no visa, which the agency promptly rejected as insufficient. Confused, TR called his father, a prominent doctor who runs one of Urumqi's hospitals, who said, "You're just a kid. You don't know how it's done." His father then came to the police station, gave the bureaucrat his business card, and offered that if anyone in the office had any problems, they could seek medical advice from him anytime. Aside from the typical remark about discrimination and corruption in Xinjiang, this story raises two more important points. First, minority policy in Xinjiang seems more vigilant, despite being an autonomous region, and therefore inconsistent with other provinces in China. If Xinjiang denies visas to Uyghurs, I would have expected other provinces to do the same. Second, state organizations sometimes are disconnected from regional agendas, as shown by the fact that a government-run company funded TR's trip, even though the passport agency clearly tried to prevent him from traveling abroad. Needless to say, after his father's visit, TR's passport was approved, and he is now vacationing in Malaysia.


He is luky enough.
My friend got an offer from an Holand University, her father called one of the highest rank man in the Entry and Exist Office for help, but for some unknown reason, she still could not get the passport.
She is Han.
After some compromises, she finally got her passport and visa.

I know it sounds like a Catch-22, but this chicken-and-egg situation about passport/visa doesn't sound particularly strange to me for China.

It is extremely bureaucratic. You must go your place of domicile (hukou suozai di, 户口所在地) to apply. You must state where you intend to go and what you intend to do. If you state Malaysia, and are later turned down for a Malaysian visa, your passport is rendered invalid, even if you subsequently get a valid visa for, say, Singapore.

I do not know exactly how it works in Xinjiang, but most countries do not have a consular post in Xinjiang, so this makes things even more difficult, i.e., personally visiting a consular office to ask about the visa application process could well require getting on a plane to Beijing!

This system is vastly simplified for residents of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. They are among the only people in China who can apply for a passport and get one fairly quickly without having to bribe someone.

This liberal treatment of these four cities is government policy. One reason: Residents of these cities are considered more law-abiding and wealthy, and thus less likely to "lose China's face" when traveling abroad.

The same sort of discriminatory policies are in place for Chinese citizens proceeding to Hong Kong. A Beijinger can get a 6-12 month "pass" for HK entry with no problem, while a resident of Hunan working in Shenzhen (across the border from HK) must go home for each application, and generally gets only two entries. To the best of my knowledge, these policies are not HK policies; they are central government policy.

Malaysis is, of course a largely Muslim country, and therefore the Chinese authorities watch very, very carefully any Xinjiang Muslim who wants to visit there. It is assumed that they could come into contact with Xinjiang separatists or Islamic fundamentalist recruiters.

Jerome: I'm sorry to hear about your friend, and that many people seem to face this passport problem. That's terrible she almost couldn't go to Holland for university.

Bruce: Thanks for the comprehensive explanation of the passport application procedure. I thought that the decision was rather erratic, and I wasn't aware that laws differed so greatly from place to place.