Immigration - Visas

Foreigners coming to work in China for FIE or Representative Offices are regulated by the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Entry and Exit Control, effective since July 2013 (the “Immigration Law”). Under the Immigration Law, there are twelve (12) categories of visa, four (4) of which are more relevant for foreign employees and their family:

  • Z Visa -  Empoyment: This category is suitable for foreigners working in China on a long-term basis (more than 180 days). The application process is quite complex and lengthy. Foreign applicants must satisfy the following pre-requirements: (i) be at least eighteen (18) years old, (ii) have signed an employment agreement with a company established in China, (iii) justify professional qualification, (iv) be in good physical and mental health, and (v) have no criminal record. Should these pre-requirements be met, the employer and foreign applicant shall undertake the following steps. The employer shall apply to the Human Resources and Social Security Bureau (“HRSSB”) for an Alien Employment License. Then, the employer shall ask for an Invitation Letter to the Municipal Commission of Commerce. After receiving the Alien Employment License and Letter of Invitation provided by his contemplated employer, the foreign applicant shall apply for a Z visa at the Chinese Embassy in his home country. Among other documents, his application shall include a Health Certificate, issued by a local doctor. If the application is successful, the foreign applicant shall receive a Z-visa, enabling him to enter once (1) in China. Within fifteen (15) days from his entry in China, the foreign applicant shall undergo a medical examination, at a designated healthcare center, for the delivery of a Chinese Health Certificate. The results shall then be transmitted to the competent authorities, which shall thereafter issue an Alien Employment Permit, allowing the employee to work in China for a maximum of five (5) years. Final step: the foreign applicant shall apply for a Residence Permit, with the municipal Public Security Bureau (“PSB”).  Such Residence Permit will allow the employee unlimited trips in and outside China for a period of one (1) year. It shall be renewed yearly, even if the Alien Employment Permit has been granted for more than one (1) year.
  • M Visa - Commerce & Trade: Such visa is suitable for foreigners invited to China for commercial and/or trade purposes. It suits the needs of foreigners frequently entering and leaving China, spending less than 180 days in China within a given calendar year, holding no formal position at an entity based in China and receiving no salary from a company established in China. M visas can be renewed after 6 months. However, if the foreign applicant has continuously lived in China over a long period of time during the past 6 months, the Immigration Bureau may consider the latter is actually working in China and may refuse the renewal application.
  • R Visa - Priority Talent: Particularly skilled professionals and highly specialized experts whose qualifications are in shortage in China, can apply for R visas. Applicants need to satisfy more stringent criteria than those required for Z visas. Such criteria as well as supportive documents may vary depending on localities.
  • S Visa - Family: This category is suitable for family members of foreigners working or studying in China, either on a long term basis, more than 180 days (visas S1), or on a short term basis, less than 180 days (visas S2).
NB: China permanent residency, the so called “China Green Card”, is extremely difficult to obtain. In theory, qualified individuals, such as spouses of Chinese citizens (whose marriage has lasted more than five (5) years, who have resided in China for over five (5) years in a row (with an annual stay no shorter than nine (9) months) and who can prove stable and secured living conditions in China) can apply for a Certificate of Aliens Permanent Residence. Such document enables them to enter and exit China how often they desire, without any additional visa. Very few foreigners have in practice been granted such status, which seems to remain a privilege for a few elite rather than something for a large number of foreigners. It cannot be compared with the procedure adopted in Hong Kong, where foreigners who have legally resided therein for more than seven (7) years, can apply for a permanent resident status without tremendous difficulty.

December 2015

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