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Hiring foreign employees in China entails several steps and procedures, just like any other country.

To be eligible for working in China, foreigners should generally satisfy the following basic criteria:

  • Attained 18 years of age, and are healthy;
  • Possess the requisite professional skill and the corresponding work experience for the work;
  • Have no criminal record;
  • Has confirmed employer in China; and
  • Hold a valid passport or any other international travel document.

The administrative procedures for hiring foreign employees are slightly different depending on the intended working period in China. According to the revised Administrative Regulations on the Employment of Foreigners in China and the Entry-Exit Regulation released in 2013, the due procedures for a company to hire foreign employees who will work in China for over 90 days include:

  • Applying for Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work Permit in China;
  • Applying for Z-visa or R-visa;
  • Applying for Foreigner’s Work Permit; and
  • Applying for Residence Permit.

To be noted, citizens of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan do not need to go through the administrative procedures for hiring foreign employees – they are under the same treatment as mainland Chinese in employment management.

Applying for Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work Permit in China

The Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work Permit in China shows the company's intent to hire a specific foreign national. The application process needs cooperation of both the employer and the employee. 

An employer looking to hire expats must register on the online service platform of the Ministry of Service and Technology (http://fuwu.most.gov.cn/) to get its account at the first time of use, with required documents submitted online.

After registered successfully, the company can submit the application of the Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work Permit in China, along with other required documents through the online service platform of the Ministry of Service and Technology. 

Upon acceptance of the application, the decision-making body will review the materials and make a decision within 10 working days to approve or decline the employer’s request to hire a foreign worker. Upon approval, a Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work Permit in China will be produced online. For Tier A talents, the time could be reduced to five working days.

Normally, the company should help the employee apply for the Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work Permit in China before their entry into China, and then apply the Foreigner’s Work Permit within 15 days upon their entry, except for certain circumstances where the company can help the foreign employee apply for the Foreigner’s Work Permit directly when the foreigner is already in China.

Applying for Z-visa or R-visa

After obtaining the Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work Permit in China for the foreign nationals it intends to hire, the company need to make sure the expatriates entering into China with the proper visa.

Among the 12 types of visas stipulated in the Entry-Exit Regulation 2013, both Z-visa and R-visa can be used as work visas, while the requirements for the latter are considerably higher than the former.

  • A Z-visa is the most commonly used visa for employment. It is used by foreigners who are actually employed by a company that has been incorporated in China (either domestic or foreign invested), or who plan to give a commercial performance in China.
  • An R-visa is a relatively new type of visa, issued to high-level foreign personnel and those possessing skills that are in shortage of China. Under China’s tiered talents system, R-visa is usually applicable to Tier A talents.
  • The M-visa is known as "business visa". Although it cannot be used for employment purposes, it enables companies to invite foreigners to China for commercial and trade activities and may thus be useful for doing business in China.

Generally, there is no regulation explicitly stipulating the number of expats a single company can hire in China. In practice, however, local government agencies tend to refuse applications if they think the company unnecessarily hired too many foreign employees. Based on the experience of Dezan Shira & Associates, when assessing the necessity of hiring foreigners, the authorities consider things like the applicant’s business scope and size, registered capital, and internal structure, as well as the specific position in question. There are, however, no firm rules on the matter, and companies are instead reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Once the visa is granted, and the foreign employee arrives in China, they will require a Work Permit and a Residence Permit, in addition to regiatering their Temporary Residence (Accomodation Address).

 

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Applying for Foreigner’s Work Permit

The unified work permit system

Previously, China’s work permit system included two different kinds of work permits - the Alien Employment Permit and the Foreign Expert Permit. While the Alien Employment Permit is issued for general employment, the Foreign Expert Permit is issued to “high-level” talent or candidates whose skills are urgently needed in China’s labor market. These two permits are issued and administrated by different government entities.

To avoid deterring high-quality foreign candidates from working legally in China with these issues, the government has prioritized streamlining the foreign employment system from the application process to the permits themselves.

Under the new single work permit system, a unified model is administered by the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs (SAFEA) and its local branches, thereby eliminating the confusion and inconformity of the two-permit system.

The tiered talents system

Together with the unified work permit system, a tiered talents classification system was also introduced to attract more high-level foreign talents. Under this system, foreign workers are classified into three tiers: highly qualified top talents (Tier A), professional talents in line with labor market demand (Tier B), and other foreign talents in line with labor market demand (Tier C).

The classification is based on the desirability and eligibility of the expats through a comprehensive evaluation system, which includes a point-based system, a catalogue for guiding foreigners working in China, a labor market test, as well as a quota administration system. Among others, applicants are assigned points based on their education background, salary level, age, past achievements, work experience and length, and Chinese language level. Candidates applying to work in less developed areas may receive additional points. The SAFEA has released detailed scoring criteria and other specific standards to evaluate expats.

The three-tiered talents are subject to different administrations. Applicants placed in Tier A are eligible for service through a “green channel”, which offers paperless verification, expedited approval, and other facilitation measures. Tier A talents shall not be limited by their age, education degree, or working experience. In contrast, applicants placed in Tier B are controlled according to the labor market demand, and applicants placed in Tier C are strictly limited by quotas and other relevant rules.

Tier

Candidates

Ease of Application

Points Required

A

Highly qualified top talent

Highly encouraged

85+

B

Professional talent in line with labor market demand

Generally controlled

60-85

C

Unskilled workers

Strictly limited

Below 60

Accommodation registration

After entering China, the foreigner needs to register with the police where he/she is staying. If the individual is staying in a hotel, the hotel staff tends to do this. If the individual rents an apartment, they need to take a copy of the passport and the signed rental agreement to the nearest police station. In certain cities such as Shanghai, the accommodation registration could be done through an online system.

Online application of Foreigner's Work Permit

Within 15 days of entering China, the company should apply for a Foreigner’s Work Permit for their foreign employee. The application should be done through the Service System for Foreigners Working in China, with the following documents submitted:

  • Application form for Foreigner’s Work Permit;
  • Verification of past employment;
  • Verification of education or a verification of professional qualification;
  • Criminal record certificate;
  • Physical examination record for foreigner or overseas Chinese;
  • Copy of the job contract or appointment letter;
  • Passport;
  • ID photo; and
  • Information of accompanying members.

Documents required by applicant’s employer:

  • Registration form;
  • Business license and organization code certificate;
  • ID information of the employer/agent who is responsible for the registration;
  • Industry license documents.

Generally, it takes 10 working days for the SAFEA in charge to verify the material and decide whether to approve. For Tier A talents, the time could be reduced to five working days. Upon approval, the Foreigner’s Work Permit in China shall be issued on site. 

The validity period of an employment permit

The Foreigner’s Work Permit in China is normally valid for one year. The validity period can be raised to two years for Tier B talents and five years for Tier A talents. It may not, however, exceed the validity of the employee’s passport, the term on the company’s business license, or the registration certificate of the employer. The Foreigner’s Work Permit in China will also be subject to annual review.

For foreigners switching companies or changing nationalities during the validity of his/her Foreigner’s Work Permit in China, they should deregister their old permit first and then apply for the new one without leaving China, as mentioned above. If only the personal information - name, passport number, and position - is changed, the Foreigner’s Work Permit in China could be simply amended instead of re-applied for. 

When re-applying for the Foreigner’s Work Permit in China, the applicant will not be required to submit the original paper document for verification again.

Obtaining a Residence Permit

After the employee is granted a work visa, and has successfully entered China, the hiring company must to help him or her to apply for a residence permit within 30 days of the entrance. Receipt of a residence permit signifies the completion of the administrative procedures for hiring foreign employees, allowing the employee to travel into and out of China as regularly as they require.

The application takes about five to 15 working days. In addition, the application procedures are slightly different from city to city. For example, in Shanghai, the applicant is required to show up in person to a government office to take a digital picture to confirm it is the same person as the passport holder from the application.

The term of validity of the residence certificate is determined in accordance with the validity of the Foreigner’s Work Permit in China, which is usually up to one year. In some cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, certain foreign employees can apply for five-year residence permits, subject to higher qualifications.

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