Chinese visa processes are notoriously difficult to navigate, and the safest option would be to work through an immigration expert. Immigration procedures are largely carried out at local level, and each locality has a unique structure. This means that expats who apply for a work permit in China will need to fulfil different requirements depending on where they will be working.
After entering the country with their Z Visa, expats should apply for work and residence permits for China as soon as possible after they arrive. This is especially important given that, under regulations that took effect in September 2013, the processing period for permits alone can take up to 15 days and interviews may be required.
In fact, the entire process, from the employer applying for the expat’s employment licence, to the expat receiving their work and residence permits once they are in the country, can take longer than six weeks.
The amended regulations have also had effects on the local level. In Shanghai, for instance, foreigners applying for a residence card need to have a foreign expert permit, whereas in the past a work permit sufficed. Furthermore, the unmarried partners of foreign workers can no longer apply for a residence permit as a dependent.
Although it seems as if immigration experts are more necessary than ever for expats wanting to work in China, it is nonetheless useful to have a general idea of the Chinese work and residence permit system.
Work permits for China
Each case is unique and there are differences between each city’s immigration and labour processes. There are, however, a few standard requirements expat employees will likely have to fulfil:
They will need to obtain a Z visa prior to arriving
The work permit application has to be sponsored by a locally registered company in China
They need to live and work in the same location as their sponsoring company
A medical examination will be required
Work permit process
The employee will go for a medical examination at an authorised hospital either inside or outside China. They will need a medical report signed by their doctor and stamped with the hospital’s seal. Some cities, such as Beijing, also require foreign employees to have a non-criminal record check attested by Chinese authorities.
The medical report will be attached to an employment licence application, which is often submitted by the Chinese employer to their local Labour Bureau.
After an employment licence is approved and granted, the company requests a Z Visa invitation from their local Foreign Economic and Trade Commission. These are then forwarded to the employee who applies for a Z Visa at the Chinese embassy or consulate in their home country.
After the employee arrives in China, they need to apply for a work permit at their local Labour Bureau.
It should be noted that in cities such as Shanghai foreign nationals can have their medical examination after they get their Z Visa and work permit.
Residence permits for China
Within 24 hours of arriving in China, expats have to complete a Temporary Residence Registration Form and produce their passport at the local police station. Sometimes expats staying in a hotel are able to register there. Expats staying with a Chinese resident, even if they are foreign nationals, will have to register at the local Public Security Bureau (PSB). Some cities may require expats to do this after every trip they make out of the country.
Residence permit process
In addition to applying for a work permit and registering their temporary residence, expats need to apply for a working foreigner’s residence permit at their local PSB within 30 days of arriving in the country.
The Chinese residence permit is an expat’s proof that they are legally living in the country. These are generally valid for up to a year and can be renewed for a year at a time, usually when a work permit extension is applied for.
If someone wants to move to a different region of China, they will have to apply for permission at their local PSB and apply for a new residence permit at the nearest PSB in their new destination.
If any changes need to be made to the residence permit, such as a change of address, this has to be applied for less than 10 days after the change takes place.
The following may be required when applying for a residence permit for China:
Passport, photos and other supporting personal documentation
Fingerprints and other biometric information
A health certificate that is valid for more than one year
Work permit and other relevant supporting materials issued by Chinese authorities
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.
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