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Travelers face visa uncertainty after San Francisco Chinese consulate crash

Zhibin and Ting Zhang drove from Santa Clara to get a visa for their baby, Xiwen, at the Consulate General of The People’s Republic of China on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Damien Tran was excited to travel to the Chinese city of Kunming, to see the natural beauty of Yunnan Province in the country’s southwest. But now, the Bay Area resident’s vacation plans are filled with uncertainty.

On Tuesday morning, Tran, who lives in Hayward, drove to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco’s Western Addition to pick up his passport with its approved tourist visa, only to find that the visa office was closed indefinitely after Monday’s incident in which a man armed with a gun and crossbow drove into the building. 

“I saw the news,” Tran told The Standard. “I was hoping there’s some possibility that the office will remain open.”

Damien Tran traveled from Hayward to pick up a visa at the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in San Francisco on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

That proved not to be the case. Monday’s bizarre episode led to a fatal shooting by the San Francisco Police Department, making international headlines.

Tran said he had already booked his family’s flights and hotels, and had hoped to leave this weekend—first for Vietnam and then on to China. But now, with his passport still inside the consulate, he’s unable to make any international trips.

Late last night, the consulate posted that its visa office would be closed until further notice, as the building was severely damaged. On Tuesday, the consulate closed down its office with a metal door to deter any would-be visitors. 

Nonetheless, a number of hopeful people stopped by the office looking to pick up their documents, including several who had traveled from Sacramento.

Shirley Cen, who owns a travel agency in Chinatown that provides assistance to Chinese Americans, said she has received a number of inquiries about tourist visas to China—which only recently reopened its borders after a 3-year, Covid-imposed shutdown. Cen also told The Standard she has some clients with urgent travel plans and hopes the visa service will resume shortly.

Private security, media and people tried to visit the consulate on Tuesday, one day after an incident in which a driver rammed a vehicle into the building. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Normally, she added, her staff would submit the clients’ visa applications in the consulate on Monday, but because of Indigenous Peoples' Day, her company was off yesterday. According to a video from Monday’s scene, the car that rammed the consulate drove into an empty waiting area, causing no injuries. 

The visa office closes at 2:30 p.m., Cen said, so only a handful of people were present when the crash occurred at 3 p.m.

The Standard has reached out to the consulate for comment. According to the consulate’s blog, only “emergency applications” will be processed now. That category refers to humanitarian travel visas for funerals or for visiting family members in critical health.

Han Li can be reached at han@sfstandard.com