Employing Foreign Nationals in China: Visa Procedures

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By Zhou Qian and Steven Elsinga

In September 2013, the Chinese government amended its visa regulations. The revised law mainly introduced a number of new visa categories, increasing the total number from eight to 12, and altered the scope of a few existing categories. In this section, we walk you through the most recent changes.

The F-visa, also known as a business visa, was previously used by foreign businesspeople visiting China on business but who were not employed by a Chinese entity. However, the new regulations have now limited its scope to non-commercial purposes only, such as cultural exchanges, visits and inspections. At the same time, the regulations introduced a new visa for business travelers called the M-visa. It is applicable to foreigners coming to the country for business and trade purposes of
no more than six months (180 days). Like the previous F-visas (business category), M-visas are most suitable for foreigners who will:

  • Spend less than six months in China during any one calendar year
  • Be frequently entering and leaving China
  • Not hold a formal senior position at an entity based in China
  • Not receive payment from a company incorporated in China

M-visas can be renewed after six months, however, there is always the risk that the immigration bureau may refuse the application. This risk grows if the foreigner has resided continuously in China over a long period of time. The immigration bureau may then conclude that such an applicant is effectively working in China.

CB 2014 12_infographic5(1)Another new visa type is the R-visa, which is issued to foreign high level personnel and those with special talents in shortage in China. What is meant by ‘high-level personnel’ is not yet entirely clear, but this likely refers to a company’s senior management. So apart from the Z-visa, the R-visa can now also be used for employment purposes in China. Applicants for an R-visa need to satisfy more stringent requirements than for a regular Z-visa. These requirements and the documents needed are stipulated by local government authorities, and thus vary per locality.

Both the R and Z-visas are official work visas. For the time being, the Z-visa is the most common type used by foreigners working in China, and will likely remain so, considering the stricter requirements and remaining uncertainty regarding the R-visa.

An employee on a Z-visa needs to subsequently apply for a residence permit. The residence permit allows the foreigner to stay in China for the length of time as stipulated by the permit, usually one year. It also allows him/her an unlimited number of trips into and out of the country. With an M-visa (or the previous F-visa) this is not possible, and leaving the country often means having to reapply for a new visa.

The full procedure for obtaining a work visa (Type Z) is summarized in the chart below (click for large).

CB 2014 12_infographic6 1280

The new law also introduces the concept of a ‘private non-enterprise unit’. Foreigners working for such organizations need to apply for a Foreign Expert Certificate, instead of an Alien Employment Permit. We will go into more detail about these documents in the following pages. Depending on how the implementation of the new regulations proceed, foreigners working for ‘private non-enterprise units’ may soon have to apply for R-visas instead of Z-visas. 

For a consultation on the different types of visas available to foreign nationals in China, or other types of Human Resource advisory, please contact the tax, legal and operational professionals of Dezan Shira & Associates at china@dezshira.com.

CB 2014 12_cover_250x350This article is an excerpt from the December issue of China Briefing Magazine, titled “Employing Foreign Nationals in China“. In this issue of China Briefing, we have set out to produce a guide to employing foreign nationals in China, from the initial step of applying for work visas, to more advanced subjects such as determining IIT liability and optimizing employee income packages for tax efficiency. Lastly, recognizing that few foreigners immigrate to China on a permanent basis, we provide an overview of methods for remitting RMB abroad.

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11 thoughts on “Employing Foreign Nationals in China: Visa Procedures

    Rishi says:


    Due to the changes and leaving out Internships the question has risen about which visa, if any, is appropriate for an internship.

    However, it seems that based on your (great) article “Employing Foreign Nationals in China: Visa Procedures”, posted January 14, 2015, that the M Visa can be used for internships done by foreigners (not Chinese) because they:

    – spend less than six months in China during any one calendar year
    – not hold a formal senior position at an entity based in China
    – not receive payment from a company incorporated in China

    Is my assumption correct?

    Thank you.

    Steven Elsinga says:

    Hi Rishi,

    We wrote an article specifically on the topic of interns before:


    I hope it will answer your question.

    Rishi says:

    Hi Steven,

    Thank you very much.

    Based on the article (another good one): the foreign intern is only allowed to have his/her internship in China when being in China (already) as student. Conclusively, the only way to have an internship as foreigner is:

    1. To get into China: apply for Student (X) visa with the documents sent to you by your school (JW101 or JW202 and acceptance letter) and
    2. Apply for Chinese residence permit within 30 days after arrival.


    @Rishi – Yes, China began it make it hard for foreign interns to gain China experience, and they really need to be associated with a Chinese college or university. I think the authorities felt some “students” were abusing their visas in China and where actually working full time and being paid without declaring tax. But there are plenty of other countries in Asia to obtain good intern experiences, and China has been ‘done’ by so many now. MNC’s are now looking for foreigners with intern or work experience in Vietnam and the other ASEAN nations, as well as India. – Chris

    nathalie says:

    This is bad news. We have 4 students (from Europe) who organised internship for Feb-March-April here in China (Suzhou). They cannot apply for the X-visa and the embassy told them to apply for a Z-visa (which is mission impossible as we all know). Are there really no other options at this moment ?

    Matthew Zito says:

    @Nathalie Unfortunately, according to Chinese law, the only way to organize internships for foreigners in China is if the intern is currently attending a Chinese university. Any other methods would put the company at risk of non-compliance.

    CC says:


    Am told by agent recently that M visa is only for business activities less than three months and a resident visa is required if longer even am not getting paid in china, which is different from six months in your article, is there any update we are missing? Thanks

    Akansha says:

    Hi I wish to join chinese unversity for postdoctoral fellowship. University had send me the documents gor study visa. However chinese embessy returned my application stating I should apply for z working visa. Please tell me the document required for z visa for postdoctoral in china. Do I need foreign expert certificate if yes then what is the procedure and document required to obtain the same.

    Thanks in advance

    Derek says:

    Just wanted to thank you for having such an informative website and responding so helpfully to other people’s questions (which was just as informative as the original articles). I am currently involved in the labyrinthine process of getting a work visa, and your site is the ONLY resource I have found that is both clearly written (even when the rules are ambiguous), and up-to-date. Whoever made the work visa (z) infographic is a genius graphic designer and just illuminated my month-long ordeal in very clear and simple terms. I really wish I had come across your website sooner…

    You’ve often stressed the point that regulations and processes may vary between locations. I am currently waiting for my invitation letter (step 2) and have already noticed differences. For instance, I have been asked to obtain the Criminal record check after I go home to get my Z-visa, and provide the certificate when I return to get my residence permit. Furthermore the CV must be in both English and Chinese, as well as certified/authenticated by an officially recognized translation company/department.

    Both Step 1 and Step 2 required numerous official’s signatures, including city police approval and stamp for invitation letter, city mayor’s signature, etc. Running around town many times over a month-long period. And I haven’t even completed step 2 yet.

    Finally, it would be good to have more clarification on the “criminal record check”. The officials here have themselves been unclear on this issue. I plan on getting a state-wide check in the US when I go home, while also applying for an FBI check. Unfortunately the wait time for the FBI check is something like 3 months, so I can only hope that the local police check suffices..

    Just keep in mind you will need to prepare far ahead in advance.

    pramod kumar yadav says:

    before i was working for a company which i left this year march and opened my own office here. as you know i left the job i have visa to stay till november but need to do new work permit for my own company. company is joint venture me and chinede friend. i am facing trouble. i actually didnt find the correct procedure how to do that? which document how to produce them? if any new things need to do? pls clear my doubts. because pf that my company i didnt started working.

    China Briefing says:


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

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