On the beat: vetting foreigners in Shanghai

Yu Shaohua is an exit-entry police officer in a team responsible for dealing with foreigners who illegally work in China.
On the beat: vetting foreigners in Shanghai
Ti Gong

Officer Yu Shaohua checks to make sure that visas and work permits of foreigners in Shanghai adhere to regulations.

Yu Shaohua, 34, spends a lot of his time hanging around bars downtown, but he’s hardly a barfly.

Yu is an exit-entry police officer with the Huangpu District Public Security Bureau. He’s part of a team responsible for dealing with foreigners who illegally work in China.

His “beat” is in a district that’s home to a third of all expats in the city and is a popular accommodation area for foreign tourists.

Yu has been nominated as a candidate for the award of “exemplary exit-entry police officer” in Huangpu District this year.

After earning two degrees in business administration, he looked for a job that would bring into contact with foreigners. He became a police officer in 2007.

Several years ago, he was tasked with improving the enforcement of laws on foreigners illegally working in entertainment venues. Huangpu District is known as a lively scene for foreigners.

“I was never a bar person,” he says. “Bars are still too noisy for me, but I need to know how bars operate.”

Sometimes alone and sometimes with others, Yu says he has visited almost every entertainment venue that features foreign performers. It’s often late-night work.

“I found out, for example, that a jazz bar normally doesn’t have dance troupes of as many as 10 people, so when a dance troupe of that size applies to perform at a jazz bar, it will sound suspicious,” he explains.

Yu says artists not registered to work often show up after midnight. His colleagues once found a backstage staffer of a foreign rock band starting to play the bass at 2am, just when the concert was about to end, and immediately reported the incident. A staffer who doesn’t state his work in China as a band musician isn’t allowed to play for the band.

Yu looks up popular events websites, WeChat accounts and posters at hostels for performance information — places to monitor for illegal foreign performers or workers.

In the past two years, 20 such illegal cases have been found, including six members of a Scandinavian rock band who were in Shanghai on tourist visas and were set to perform in a live theater.

Another important part of Yu’s work is to check the authenticity of applicants for work visas.

With an education background in international shipping and commerce, Yu is deft in vetting applicants, like an older woman from another country who applied to work as an assistant in a shipping company.

“It’s really unusual for a person 40 years or older to work as an assistant in a shipping company, and she obviously had no basic industry knowledge,” he says.

Further investigation and an interview with the company director revealed that she was actually being hired as a home helper.

On the beat: vetting foreigners in Shanghai
Ti Gong

Yu interviews a foreign visa applicant.

Yu says he reads up on various industries and takes notes when talking to companies in the various sectors.

In addition to his skill in English, Yu also has a working knowledge of Japanese. That once helped him in an important case back in 2014.

In March that year, police received a report that a man with a Chinese name and passport checked into a luxury serviced apartment in Huangpu District, paying tens of thousands of yuan in cash for the rental. The man, who claimed to be from Heilongjiang Province, was constantly entertaining Japanese visitors.

Yu found it suspicious that the man spoke fluent Japanese. He was taken in for questioning. Yu and his team discovered that he was an internationally wanted criminal from Japan.

Part of Yu’s job is to ensure that the more than 180 hotels in the district, which together host at least 1 million foreign visitors a year, register tourist documents accurately.

Yu holds monthly training sessions to teach hotel staff how to read the passports of different countries. He has a 6-year-old WeChat group that includes more than 300 hotel staff, who text him questions such as “how do I tell the letter O from the number zero on a German passport?”

Yu has a 24/7 hotline for hotel staff and says he often gets calls late at night with passport registration problems.

He enjoys his job, though.

“I’m happy that I’m applying my knowledge to serve a public good,” he says.

On the beat: vetting foreigners in Shanghai
Ti Gong

Yu (center) and his friend (right) bump into Sven-Goran Eriksson, former head coach of Shanghai SIPG football club in Xintiandi.

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