China Work Visa: Unified Work Permit

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By Dezan Shira & Associates
Editor: Weining Hu

In an effort to streamline the visa application process for foreigners, the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) has quickened reforms for foreigners to apply for China’s work visa.

Effective on April 1, 2017, the SAFEA rolled out a unified work permit system nationwide that began to process applications 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 system to evaluate which candidates qualify for the work permit.

Compared with the old system, the new one requires fewer supporting application materials, provides a more transparent evaluation process, and shortens turnaround time.

On paper, foreign applicants will benefit from this restructure of the foreign work permit system due to its simpler, clearer, and less time-consuming application process.

Two-in-one reform versus old system

A standard procedure for obtaining a foreigner’s work visa normally involves three critical steps: an application for an employment license, a work visa application at a Chinese embassy, and obtainment of an employment permit.

Under the old system, there were two government entities, the Human Resources and Social Security Bureau (HRSS) and the SAFEA, governing the foreign work visa application process.

The HRSS issued the Employment License and Alien Employment Permit to Z-visa applicants, while the SAFEA issued the Foreign Expert License and Foreign Expert Certificate to R-visa applicants.

However, starting from April 1, the SAFEA became solely responsible for processing all foreign work visa applications. In other words, both Z-visa and R-visa applicants need to submit their applications to only the SAFEA without confusion over where to apply.

In addition, the Employment License and Foreign Expert License have been integrated into a single Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work Permit, and the Alien Employment Permit and the Foreign Expert Certificate 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.

Online application

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 (Management Service System) 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;
  • 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.

Tiered classification

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.

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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 flag 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 of 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.

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Validity of an Employment Permit

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.

Consider regional variations

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.

In January this year, a new policy which lowers the application thresholds for foreign master’s graduates from Chinese and “well known” overseas universities is an extension of a scheme piloted in the Shanghai FTZ.

It is therefore recommended that work visa applicants stay up-to-date with both the 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 was 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.


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10 responses to “China Work Visa: Unified Work Permit”

  1. Jonathon Davis says:

    Hi! Much appreciate your article.
    Contrary to what you’ve written here, i’m finding the new process much more difficult than is has been in the past 8 years that i’ve lived here. I’m now going through the process with my new company to get a work visa and i’m being requested to supply (as you mentioned above), 1. A criminal background check and 2. A certificate from the China embassy in my home country regarding my educational credentials. I have been unable to glean any info from the China embassy in the United States about how, when and whom can get these documents for me. Do you have any insight? Your help would be much appreciated. Regards, Jonathon

  2. Jake Liddle says:

    Hi Jonathon,

    thanks for your inquiry. Please contact our service team at http://www.dezshira.com/services/payroll-human-resource-administration for more information.

    Best.

  3. Alek says:

    Contrary to what the title of the article says, it’s definitely much more difficult now since the 1st of April to get the work permit in Suzhou (Jiangsu). As now even the 2nd tier cities are not so flexible as before when it comes to work experience after graduation and academic background. It is a big headache now for the employers and especially for employees who are not of managerial level.

  4. David Robert Whittall says:

    I have given 10 months a year, for last 5 years, as a Native English Teacher, working in China!

    I have a 120 Hours TEFL Diploma, a C&G of London Institute, Full ‘Tech’ Certificate in Telecommunications, and a BSC in ‘Engineering Technology’.
    Additionally I obtained Certificates in ‘English for Hotels & Resorts’, ‘English for IT’, ‘English for Accounting’, and ‘Medical English’, (for helping Students obtain such with on-line Class, so they can improve their listening, speaking and Vocabulary in these specialized areas.

    With the Introduction of this New Unified Work Permit for Foreigners, I was told that in addition to needing more than 60 Points for Category ‘B’, there is also an Age Restriction and Foreign Teachers now need to be ‘Under Age 60’. Your Report made no mention of this and yet that is the reason HNU, said they could not give me a new Contract, for next academic year.

  5. China Briefing says:

    Hello David,

    You are correct that the standard age limit for foreign teachers is 60. However, this also depends on the location and the exact type of visa sought. Please consult our HR service team at http://www.dezshira.com/services/payroll-human-resource-administration for more information.

  6. Otto says:

    Work permit..
    I have a qianhai WFOE where I’m the only investor and shareholder, how to get a work permit and considering I’m 70 years old?

  7. China Briefing says:

    Hi Otto,
    Thank you for your inquiry. Please contact our HR specialists for advisory on visa and work permit matters: http://www.dezshira.com/services/payroll-human-resource-administration

  8. Chuck says:

    Hi, I’ve just been approved for work permit category B in Shanghai after a grueling and stressful 6 weeks in Shanghai, and more then 30k Yuan spent on hotels, agents, transports and getting documents legalized overseas, (just my university degree cost me 7k Yuan to notarize and 20 days wait).
    You get recalled to SAFEA office for any mistake in any document to re-upload, give a copy and show the corrected original document to the officer, and every upload would take another 5 working days to get an answer which is always more documents to upload or more corrections.
    I found the new visa system elitist and very uncool, and I’ve been long enough in China to know that the Chinese are better than that, I wonder who talked them into it, but I believe it’s a mistake and many good and hard working foreigners in China are just giving up.
    If you fall into a C category, you are as good as a nobody, regardless of you being paying tax for the past 10 years, or being a language teacher working with orphans in Yunan or Sichuan for almost nothing
    If you want the elite A category, you need to have obtained something like a Nobel price or cured cancer, or be a super human athlete
    if you want a green card, your annual salary should be no less then 600k a year
    What is shocking about all this no-money-no-talk system is that no body spoke English at SAFEA, no agent or lawyer would take my case, I contaced 8 biggest HR agencies and lawyers in Shanghai, after they saw my file they never replied, and the ones who did, had conflicting answers.
    so in a month time I had to learn Chinese and how to navigate SAFEA Chinese website (no English FYI). on top of that, the attitude of the staff and the HR agents shoving at the counters was no class A, I wouldn’t give it D, just no manners and plain rude.
    my visa was already due and the PSB refused to give me extension, so now that I left China I finally got my work permit approved, to tell you the truth I’m so disappointed that I regret I didn’t leave before I started my application.
    I hope that the Shanghai government should think and trade carefully and maturely before implementing such policies that serve a very select few and hurt so many people like myself

  9. Naresh says:

    Hi, according to new work permit classification the website is showing that if an employee qualification is Bachelor’s degree or above and after graduation two years relevant job experience he belongs to B category. My employer applied my work permit on b category and SAFEA gave me C category work permit. Is there any restrictions or problems for next year extension if I get C category work permit?

  10. China Briefing says:

    Hi Naresh,

    Two years of relevant work experience and a bachelor’s degree does not in itself guarantee a B category work permit. While it remains to be seen how it will be enforced in practice, C category workers may have more difficulty renewing their work permits due to local quotas on the amount of permissible C category workers.

    For more information on A, B, and C categories, please consult this article: http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2017/07/19/china-work-permits-are-you-a-b-c-tier-talent.html
    Further, our work permit tier calculator can help you count your points and determine your tier based on your qualifications: http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2017/08/16/china-work-permit-calculator-find-your-tier.html

    Please note that the calculator is only meant to give you a guideline to which tier you may fall in, and local authorities may assign you to a different level.

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