The ABCs of the new foreign worker visa system
In May I attended an event organized by the Swiss Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce – Visa Policy Update by the Shanghai Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs.
The guest speaker was Ms. Yinghua Zhu, the deputy director at the Foreign Affairs Department at the Shanghai Human Resources and Social Security Bureau/Shanghai Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs.
This was an opportunity to hear about the new reforms to the foreign work permit system directly from the Chinese authorities.
China welcomes foreign talent
Ms. Zhu began by stressing that China is welcoming of foreigners, as evidenced by a number of recent government policy announcements and initiatives aimed at attracting more foreigners to China and enticing them to stay. In particular, she highlighted that for the last five years, Shanghai has consistently ranked as the most attractive city in China for foreign nationals based on a number of criteria: business opportunities, government, international facilities, food, international schools for the children of expats, cultural activities, etc.
The new system
The main part of the afternoon’s program was a detailed walk through of the new foreigner’s work permit system. For anyone who has read our previous articles on this topic, most of the information covered will not come as big news.
Previously there were two separate permits for foreign internationals to work in China: the foreign experts certificate and the alien workers permit. They have now been consolidated into one single Foreigner's Work Permit.
The stated goal of the unification of the two documents is to better protect the interests of Chinese companies and foreign workers and to simplify the process of awarding a work permit, especially as it relates to application materials. All materials are submitted online in digital format (at least at the beginning of the application process).
The system is also unified across the entire country, with every application processed through the same online network.
One of the innovations of this new system is that each applicant is assigned a unique permit number that does not change when the permit is renewed, if you move to a different job or a different city, if you leave China, come back and get a new work permit, the number stays the same.
Another big change is the elimination of the letter of invitation from the employer that was required to apply for a working (Z) visa.
Ms. Zhu also mentioned that if you come to China on an S visa (“for those who intend to go to China for private matters”) to secure employment, i.e. job interviews, you don’t need to leave the country and return home to re-apply if you find a job. You can begin the process of applying for a work permit in-country.
The new system was first piloted in Shanghai starting in 2016 – this location was chosen as there are many foreigners living and working here – and eventually rolled out across the whole country in 2017.
Basic application requirements
When applying for a work permit, there are a few basic application requirements everyone should be aware of.
- Must be 18 years of age or older
- Must be in good health
- Must have a clean criminal record
- Must have a specific employer in China
- Must have the skills necessary for the target post
- The target post should satisfy the needs of China and help its development
- Must be legally registered and paying tax and social insurance
- Have no serious violations of the law
- Demonstrate that appropriate candidates are in short supply domestically
With the new system comes a new way of classifying foreign workers: A, B, and C. Ms. Zhu had a lot more to say about the As than Bs and Cs, perhaps because the A category has so many specific regulations, categories, and channels for selection.
The point system
To classify foreign workers into the three categories, there is a new points system. Points are awarded based on such factors as educational background, work experience, workings hours in China, Chinese language proficiency, etc.
A category is 85 points or above, B is 60-84 points, and C is below 60 points.
A – High-end foreign talents that China is trying hard to attract. As such there are no limits to the number of individuals per year, no age limits, the application timeline is shorter, more support is offered during the application process, etc.
Besides getting 85 points or more in the points system, there are five other ways to be classified as an A-level talent:
Selected for a domestic talents program
Conforming to international criteria of professional achievement
Foreign talents fulfilling the market demand for government encouraged posts
Innovative entrepreneurial talents
Outstanding youth talents
A-level talents include Nobel prize winners, executives from top 500 companies, holders of high-level positions from world renown organizations, winners of national and world skills contests, etc.
B – Foreign professional talents. Numbers are restricted according to market need. There are no specific degree requirements other than applicants need a bachelor’s degree minimum. Two years of work experience is also required.
For teachers, language teachers must be native-language speakers of the language they will be teaching. For non-language teachers, for example a math teacher, this is not a requirement.
C – Other foreigners needed to meet the demand of the domestic labour market in line with state policies and regulations. Graduates of Chinese universities who want to stay in China can apply through this category. No work experience is required. For graduates of foreign universities with no work experience, at least a masters level degree is required.
There are also strict age limits for foreign workers in China. Ms. Zhu stressed that retirement age in China is 60, and this standard is also applied to foreigners - anyone above 60 will not be awarded a work permit.
There are some exceptions, the big one being if you fall into the new A category of high-level foreign talent – there is no age limit.
The second exception is if you have a special project employing other people that requires you to stay past the age of 60, but you must provide convincing justification.
If you change employers in China, you must re-apply for a new work permit. While the application is in process you must wait for the new work permit before you can start working legally again.
You must also have your degree and criminal record check re-certified.
Work permit validity period
Usually work permits are valid for one year. Higher level A talents can get up to a five-year work permit, but the work permit validity period will only be for the length of the contract offered by the employer. For example, an A-level talent offered a 3-year contract will only get a 3-year work permit.
A great question from the audience was about internships in China – what provisions does the government make for foreign interns to work in China?
Currently there is a reciprocal agreement with France to allow 1000 interns annually to come for 6 months to work. But there are no other formal agreements between China and any other countries at the moment.
For more information, check out these government websites:
Click to view a pdf of the presentation from the information session.