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US embassy visa call centre shut down
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-27 22:07

The US Embassy's Visa Information Call Centre was forced to cease operations because it was running illegally and overcharging, said a Foreign Ministry spokesman Tuesday.

The centre, established earlier last month, was operated by a Shanghai-based company. It scheduled visa appointments and provided general information to the public.

However, a 54 yuan (US$7) fee charged for every 12 minutes the callers stayed on the line raised doubts for many Chinese who considered the fee too steep.

Late last week the centre was abruptly closed by the Shanghai Public Security Bureau, according to the US Embassy's official website. The move led to a temporary stop to new visa appointments.

Relevant departments in Shanghai kept the operating company -- Xin'an Information Service Co Ltd -- under examination after they received a number of reports that it was charging excessive fees for the service it provided, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan during a regular briefing Tuesday.

An investigation revealed that the company was not authorized to provide such services, said Kong. At the same time, the large fees and payment methods it used were not approved by local authorities either.

In addition, Kong warned all companies in China to abide by the laws of the land. He said China is conducting further talks on the issue with US side.

The US Embassy in Beijing Tuesday said the call centre's closure was connected to Chinese regulations.

A spokesman with the US Embassy told China Daily that he was surprised and disappointed by the action taken by local Chinese authorities.

He said the call centre -- which was set to run 24 hours a day -- significantly improved the embassy's efficiency since it currently receives up to 10,000 calls from applicants every week, he said.

"But now, all the interview appointments have come to a stop," he said.

Many Chinese applicants pointed out that the steep fees the call centre charged largely exceeded common hotline services.

Shao Jie, a former overseas student, said she didn't know why the embassy charges another sum of money after the applicants have paid 830 yuan (US$100) in application fees.

Others interviewed expressed they can do whatever the embassy demands even if they do not like to pay any extra fees.

The embassy spokesman also said he is not sure whether it will resume scheduling visa appointments by having applicants call the embassy directly, just as it did before the centre's establishment.

Giving no exact timeline for resumption of the service, he said he hoped to be able to restart scheduling visa appointments for Chinese citizens as soon as possible.

The Shanghai-based Xin'an Information Service Company could not be reached for comment Tuesday and the Shanghai Public Security Bureau said they are still looking into the matter.

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