One of the biggest concerns for foreigners and companies hiring foreigners in China is how to apply & obtain Chinese work visas for their foreign employees. Work visa requirements in China are notorious, not so much for its difficulty in terms of prerequisites, but rather due to frequent changes in requirements. The list of documents required by the Chinese government has changed almost every single year since 2016.
At HROne, we like to stay updated so we can keep providing you the most up-to-date information. This article is updated for the China work visa process for 2022.
- Basic Requirements for Employee and Employer
- Steps Involved to Hire Foreigner
- Transferring Work Permits to a New Employer
- Permanent Residence for Working Staff
- Permanent Residence for Professional Staff
- How can HROne be beneficial to your business?
This is a comprehensive guide to understanding all the legal processes necessary to bring your foreign talent to China.
Basic Requirements for Employee and Employer
Recently, China has implemented a more active, open, and effective foreign talent policy. It has simplified the application process, allowing for the majority of the application to be completed online. For employers hiring foreigners in China, it is important to comply with the local laws and regulations regarding expatriates. For instance, employers must be legally established and must have the necessary certifications from the appropriate industry administration.
Foreigners applying for a work visa in China should also match the basic requirements. The applicant must:
- Have skills and at least 2 years of professional work experience to fill the relevant vacancy.
- Have no criminal record. A criminal background check issued by the employee’s home country is required.
- Have a job offer in China aka employer.
- Hold a valid passport and/or any other required international travel certificates.
Steps Involved to Hire Foreigners
According to the Exit and Entry Administration Law of China, foreigners who want to work in China should obtain a work permit and a work-type residence permit. Below is the general application procedure for foreigners outside of China when applying:
- Apply online from outside China for a Foreigner’s Work Permit Notice;
- Apply for a Z-Class Visa at a Chinese embassy or consulate;
- Turn in Work Permit Notice and Visa Application;
- Receive the Visa and Get on the Plane to China;
- Temporary Registration with Police;
- Medical Verification;
- Acquiring the Work Permit;
- Acquiring the Resident Permit.
Step 1: The Chinese Work Notice
The Chinese Work Notice document must be obtained before the working visa can be acquired. It is issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of the People’s Republic of China.
Before the employer in China can obtain the work permit, the following should be prepared and sent:
- Scanned copy of your passport information page;
- Medical examination report at an authorized hospital;
- Recent passport-sized photo;
- Reference letter;
- Non-criminal record (background check) translated & authenticated by Chinese Embassy/Consulate;
- Bachelor’s degree or above translated & authenticated by Chinese Embassy/Consulate;
- TEFL/TESOL certificate translated & authenticated by Chinese Embassy/Consulate (only applicable for teaching positions).
The Chinese work permit classification system
In the last few years, the Chinese government has simplified the process for applying for a work permit, by putting everything under the umbrella of one agency, SAFEA (The State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs). SAFEA is also the government agency responsible for work visas, both Z and R visa classifications. Z visas are the normal visas for foreign employees, while R visas are reserved for top-level executives and persons that the Chinese government deems extremely valuable to specific industries that China is lacking in.
Through this system, the future employee and employer can submit the supporting documents electronically. The new online management service system has eliminated almost half of the previously required documents, cutting out submissions like application letters and personal CVs.
The potential employer initiates the process from SAFEA’s management system for foreign workers in China (only in Chinese). The employer will submit the following documents:
- A business license and organization code certificate;
- The registration form;
- ID information of the employer/agent who is responsible for the registration;
- Industry license documents.
Here’s a list of the documents now required from future foreign employees:
- Foreigner’s Work Permit application form;
- ID photo;
- Verification of past employment;
- Verification of education or verification of professional qualification;
- Copy of job contract or appointment letter;
- Criminal record certificate;
- Physical examination record; and
- Information of accompanying members.
If SAFEA is satisfied with the preliminary review, they will require a hard copy of all the documents. That copy of the documents will be forwarded to the Bureau of Public Security (the police department).
Once the required documents have been submitted through SAFEA’s system, a unique method for assessing the qualifications of foreigners and processing work permit applications is used.
Because the Chinese government wishes to attract top talent and limit the less-skilled types of foreign employees, it has created a three-tiered, points-based system, categorizing foreign employees as follows:
- Class A – Elite foreign talent;
- Class B – Professional foreign talent;
- Class C – Miscellaneous foreigners.
China does not restrict the number of work visas offered to foreigners in Class A. However, there are restrictions on the number of class B and class C visas issued.
How employees are classified
There are two methods for employees to be classified:
- Be directly qualified by fulfilling various requirements;
- Reaching enough points on a points table.
A – Grade Foreign Workers
A foreign employee is considered class A if any of the following conditions are met:
- They are a recipient of an international award;
- Selected by China’s talent important plan;
- Demonstrated entrepreneurial talents;
- Will take a government-encouraged scarce job; or
- Selected under the Youth Talent project.
Class-A employees comprise around 16 percent of foreign workers in China. Because they are more desirable to the Chinese government, they enjoy benefits not given to Class-B and Class-C employees. Their application will get approved quicker, so processing times are around five working days.
They also can make use of paperless verification during the application process. They also are not subject to the usual requirements of age, education degree, or work experience. Generally, Class-A employees can enjoy a more convenient environment, before, during, and after the application process.
B – Grade Foreigners Workers
Foreigners will receive a B classification if they meet any of the following conditions:
- Hold a bachelor’s degree and have at least two years of work experience;
- Has a master’s degree from a university in mainland China;
- Holds a master’s degree from a top 100 institution worldwide as ranked by Jiao Tong University;
- For foreign language teachers, has a bachelor’s degree or higher, no less than two years experience of teaching the language, and the language being instructed is the applicant’s native language.
B-Class employees make up around 61 percent of expats in China. Compared to Class As, they can find it more difficult to obtain a work permit in industries already saturated with foreign workers.
C – Grade Foreign Workers
Finally, class C employees are considered so if:
- They are domestic helpers hired by class A employees;
- They enter China for an internship under a government agreement;
- They are in China for seasonal employment.
C-Class employees make up around 22 percent of expats. This is the category company representatives placed abroad for a few months usually fall in, as well as those entering China under Chinese government young talent initiatives. They are subject to the needs of the labor market, and C-Class permits are usually valid for shorter periods of time. It also takes longer for them to get processed.
Another way for foreign employees to be classified is by using the table provided. Each of the classes has a corresponding number of points: above 85 points for Class A, 60 to 85 points for Class B, and below 60 points for class C.
SAFEA oversees scoring foreign employee candidates based on ten factors.
Step 2: Apply for a Z-Class Visa
The Z visa only lasts for 30 days. Things needed to obtain:
- Completed visa application form (should be filled out online in advance and printed);
- One recent passport-size photo;
- Actual passport;
- Work Permit (provided by the employer in China);
- Any other required documents.
Step 3: Turn in work permit notice and Z-Class Visa application
Take the work permit received and the Z-visa application to the appropriate Chinese Embassy/Consulate for the area. A consulate is basically a smaller embassy, a sub-embassy. It will take 2 to 5 days to process.
*If you are in the U.S., the application must personally be turned into the appropriate Embassy/Consulate for the State the employee lives in. If it is inconvenient to go to the Embassy/Consulate personally, a third-party service
Here is the complete list of Chinese Diplomatic Missions around the world.
Step 4: Receive the Visa and get on the plane to China!
The expectation as the company doing the hiring is usually to provide the flights for the employee and their family.
Step 5: Temporary registration with Police (Must be done within 24 hours of arrival to China)
If the employee stays at a local hotel, they may be able to register there. But if they are staying with a Chinese resident, whether they are a foreign resident or not, they must register at the local police station that governs the area. The following documents need to be brought to the police station:
- The actual passport, not a photocopy;
- The housing contract;
- A copy of the landlord’s ID and phone number. The police may call the landlord to make sure you are truly living at the apartment, or they may even ask that the landlord shows up with the employee.
According to official rules, registration at the local police station should be done within 24 hours of entering China.
Step 6: Medical Verification (Must be done as soon as possible after the entry into China)
Every major city in China should have an International Travel Healthcare Center. This Chinese Government website provides a list of Centers. For the most part, Chinese authorities don’t accept an English version of a medical report from other countries, so it must be translated. If the company hiring the employee in China has a Chinese staff member capable of translating, and if the medical check has been fully completed in another country, there is no need to get another medical check. However, if not fully completed, the employee will need to get another medical check within China.
Things to bring if you need a Chinese medical checkup:
- An original medical checkup from your country (if it is partially completed)
- Cash (could be up to 600RMB)
- One ID Photo which meets these requirements:
- Taken within the last 6 months, against a white background, printed on high-quality paper;
- 48mm by 33mm wide, not 2 by 2 inches, which is usually used outside of China;
- Full frontal view of the head, not smiling, face fully visible;
- The photo cannot show any evidence of adhesive tape or staples.
*The applicant should not drink coffee or alcohol the night before and shouldn’t eat breakfast or drink water the day of.
Step 7: Acquiring the Work Permit
Before obtaining the residence permit, a work certificate must be acquired. Again, if the company has Chinese staff, they can help obtain it. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security oversees this process. The following documents must be submitted:
- The actual passport;
- An ID photo (same requirements as for the medical checkup);
- The police housing registration form as obtained from before;
- Medical report verification;
- Other documents from the company.
The processing time is typically 10 business days to get the work certificate.
Step 8: Acquiring the Resident Permit
Finally, the end goal: a resident permit! To obtain this, the employee must go in person to the local Exit-Entry Administration Bureau, bringing these documents:
- The actual passport;
- Police housing registration form;
- Resident permit application forms;
- ID photo;
- Original work certificate;
- Other documents for the company.
The processing time for the resident permit will be 7 business days. The Exit-Entry Administration Bureau will hold onto the actual passport during this period and will give the employee a receipt that can serve as a replacement passport during this time.
Now that the employee has obtained the resident permit, they are, for most intensive purposes, considered a resident of China! They are free to travel around China and can come and go from China as often as they wish, without needing any extra paperwork. Without a resident permit, a foreign employee cannot stay in China long term.
Foreigners who study or perform internships cannot be legally employed, as well as dependents of foreigners who hold a work permit. Employers must sign a legal contract with foreign employees, the agreement cannot be under the table. Additionally, employers cannot even engage employees in language training. Although there are a lot of steps to obtain a residence permit, the consequences of not following the proper legal procedure just explained are serious.
Transferring Work Permits to a New Employer
When a foreign talent is hired by a new company, their work permits must be canceled and renewed. The reason for this is that in China, employees’ Work Visas are tied to their company of employment. The employer has access to an electronic system to cancel the employee’s work permit. There are two forms the employer should fill out:
- “Proof of Cancellation of Work Permit for Foreigners Working in China”
- “Application Form for Cancellation of Foreigner’s Work Permit”
The former employer should apply to cancel the work permit within 10 working days from when employment ceases. The cancellation certificate will include the reason for the cancellation of the work permit.
Next, the new work permit should be applied for. Important application documents for this purpose held by the employee include a letter of release and a work permit cancellation certificate. Also, applicants need proof of relevant work experience from previous employers and a bachelor’s degree or above.
Changes in Visa
Whenever a foreign employee changes positions in China, they will need to get a new work permit. However, whether they must change their visa depends on two situations:
Situation A: The same occupation, but a new employer
The employee can stay in China during the application process and does not need a new Z or R visa. However, the employee’s resident permit must remain valid during the transfer of positions.
Situation B: A new occupation, and a new employer
A change in both occupation and employer requires the employee to leave China and re-enter with a new R or Z Visa. The logic behind this is that since the employer is switching occupations, they must again prove to the government that they are qualified to work in China in a new position.
The government has not made completely clear what is defined as a new occupation. However, it can be somewhat deduced by the magnitude of the job change. If an employee is currently a teacher and is becoming a consultant, it is apparent that the new job is completely different. If there is still uncertainty, the local Entry/Exit Bureau or Labor Bureau should be contacted, as it is the local authority that will ultimately make the decision of whether a new Visa is needed or not.
Permanent Residence Permit for Working Staff
Those who have worked in Shanghai continuously for 4 years with an annual salary income (before tax) exceeding RMB 600,000 and have paid annual individual tax exceeding RMB 120,000, and stay in mainland China for no less than 6 months every year in this 4 years; can apply for permanent residence in China with the present employer’s recommendation.
The foreign spouse and their unmarried children under 18 years old of the above applicants can apply for permanent residence together.
Permanent Residence Permit for Senior / Professional Staff
Applicants are eligible for permanent residence if they are employed in the following 5 types of organizations and hold positions of chairman, vice chairman, general manager, deputy general manager, or have titles of associate professor, associate researcher, and above, and have worked consecutively for 4 years (residence in China no less than 3 years). and have good tax records:
- Research institutes of the State Council or Shanghai Municipal People’s Government or public institutions with administrative management or functions.
- Key universities (“211 Project” schools and the first batch of admissions colleges).
- Enterprises and institutions that undertake the task of national key projects or major scientific and technological projects
- High-tech enterprises, encouraged foreign-invested enterprises, foreign invested advanced technology enterprises, or foreign-invested product export enterprises.
- Enterprises and institutions like national laboratories, national key laboratories, national engineering laboratories, national engineering research centers, national accredited enterprise technology centers, national engineering technology research centers, or foreign-funded R&D centers.
The foreign spouse and their unmarried children under 18 years old of the above foreign applicants can apply for permanent residence together.
How can HROne be beneficial to your business?
As you can tell, there’s a lot that goes into the process of obtaining a Work Visa for your foreign employees in China. Even in the last few years, the regulations involved have changed significantly. Many companies chose to outsource the process to Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) located within China. HROne is the top non-state-owned company providing this type of service for the Chinese market. We can handle the complete visa requirement process for your company’s expatriate employees in China. We ensure that compliance with the latest regulations in China is met by providing you with a team well-versed in the Chinese system.
In addition to helping you with Work Visas, we are a one-stop-shop for all administrative employment solutions companies may require in China. We provide office space in major cities, employ tax and accounting specialists, and have a team of legal experts ready to deal with any issues that may arise navigating through the Chinese system.
More and more companies are implementing a new strategy for doing business in China by directly hiring expatriate employees via HROne through our specialized Employment Services. This service enables the foreign companies to do business in China without setting up any legal company in China, as the employee works for the foreign company while hired and administered by HROne.