In an effort to attract more foreign talents, the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) has quickened reform to make it easier for foreigners to apply for a China work visa.
On April 1, 2017, the SAFEA rolled out a unified work permit system nationwide that began to process applications from both ‘foreign experts’ and ordinary foreign nationals, referred to as R visas and Z visas, respectively.
The new system uses a points-based, three-tiered classification process to evaluate which candidates qualify for the work permit. It requires fewer supporting application materials, provides a more transparent evaluation process, and shortens turnaround time.
Under the new system, the employer and foreign applicant can complete the application and submit necessary supporting documents electronically
A standard procedure for obtaining a foreigner’s work visa in China normally involves three critical steps: an application for an employment license, a work visa application at a Chinese embassy, and obtaining an employment permit.
The HRSS issued the Employment License and Alien Employment Permit to Z-visa applicants (ordinary foreign workers), while the SAFEA issued the Foreign Expert License and Foreign Expert Certificate to R-visa applicants.
The SAFEA is now solely responsible for processing all foreign work visa applications. Both Z-visa and R-visa applicants need to submit their applications only to the SAFEA, clearing up any confusion as to which agency to apply.
In addition, the Employment License and Foreign Expert License have been integrated into a single Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work Permit. The Alien Employment Permit and the Foreign Expert Certificate have also been unified into the Foreigner’s Work Permit ID card.
Each Foreigner’s Work Permit card will have a unique ID number that does not change regardless of permit renewal or change of employer.
Under the new system, the employer and foreign applicant can complete the application and submit necessary supporting documents electronically.
An online management service system for foreign workers in China established by the SAFEA will manage the online registration process. Application materials required for submission are reduced by almost half, with submissions like personal CVs and application letters no longer necessary.
The following documents are required:
- 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
- ID photo
- Information of accompanying family members
In addition, the following documents are required from the 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
The SAFEA has adopted a point based three-tiered classification system as a primary method to evaluate which candidates qualify for the new work permit.
The classification system divides candidates into three categories: A (above 85 points) for high level talent, B (85–60) for professional personnel, and C (less than 60) for non-technical or service workers hired on a temporary or seasonal basis.
The SAFEA assigns scores to each candidate based on his or her education background, salary level, age, time spent working in China, Chinese language proficiency, employment location, etc.
In addition to the points-based classification system, the SAFEA defines a set of special conditions when a candidate qualifies for ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C’ level.
The SAFEA explicitly listed all special conditions for each status level in the Classification Standard for Foreign Workers in China (Pilot). If a candidate meets any of those special conditions, the SAFEA will assign a corresponding level to this person without calculating the total score.
For example, A level can automatically be granted to international award recipients, Fortune Global 500 company senior managers or technicians, intellectual property holders in high profile companies, and post-doctoral degree holders under 40 years old.
All A level candidates are eligible for service through a ‘green channel’, which offers a pre-entry visa, paperless verification, expedited approval, and other facilitation treatment.
Preparation of necessary documents for application can be an extremely taxing and time-consuming task if education and work experience has to be gathered internationally
While the maximum validity of a Foreigner’s Employment Permit is five years, in practice five-year permits are rarely granted. First-time applicants are more likely to receive a one-year permit and then renewals for a multi-year work permit.
Although the Beijing Labor Bureau has started to grant more multi-year Employment Permits to first-time applicants, other first-tier cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, grant them far less frequently.
As the Management Service System and relative regulating measures are still under testing, regulatory changes could occur in the near future to optimize the new system.
Additionally, new incentives may be implemented first in China’s Free Trade Zones (FTZs) and later integrated into the national model.
A new policy implemented in January this year, for example, lowers the application thresholds for foreign master’s graduates from Chinese and “well known” overseas universities. This is an extension of a scheme that had been piloted in the Shanghai FTZ.
It is therefore recommended that work visa applicants stay up-to-date with both national scheme and regional policies, as local bureaus have administrative leverage when implementing the national model.
A first hand source who classified themselves as a B level candidate and made an application under the new system has indicated that preparation of necessary documents for application can be an extremely taxing and time-consuming task if education and work experience has to be gathered internationally.
Thus, sufficient preparation and company support is essential to the application process. Companies looking to hire foreign staff should not hesitate to reach out for professional HR guidance to ensure their employees successfully receive China work visas.
About the Author
Dezan Shira & Associates is a specialist foreign direct investment practice that provides advisory services to multinationals investing in emerging Asia. This article first appeared in China Briefing, and was re-edited for clarity and conciseness. For further details or to contact the firm, please visit www.dezshira.com.