Written by Monica Li, Business Advisory, Dezan Shira & Associates’ Beijing Office
It has been more than a year since China closed its borders to foreign visitors on March 28, 2020. Since then, the detailed entry policies have been changed from time to time as the epidemic prevention and control status continues to vary both locally and abroad.
In such a scenario, it is necessary to keep track of the rules moderating how foreign visitors can enter China and under what circumstances.
This article tries to provide a thorough analysis of the travel restriction policies enacted in the past one year and offers a detailed entry guidance to the different categories of foreigners based on their visa type, inoculation status, nationality, and so on.
Considering that the entry policies and relevant guidance may vary as per the visa status of the foreign visitors, we will first introduce China’s visa system.
Chinese visas are classified into four main types: diplomatic visa, courtesy visa, service visa, and ordinary visa.
The diplomatic visa and service visa shall be issued to foreigners entering China for diplomatic and official purposes. The courtesy visa is issued to foreigners with special status who are entitled to special privileges. And ordinary visas are issued to foreigners entering China for non-diplomatic and non-official purposes, such as work, study, relatives visiting, tour, business activities, and the introduction of talent for the corresponding category.
Accordingly, the ordinary visa is further divided into 12 sub-types with 16 categories. The details are shown in the table below:
Family members in the table refer to spouses, parents, sons, daughters, spouses of sons or daughters, brothers, sisters, grandparents, grandsons, granddaughters, and parents-in-law. D, Z, J1, Q1, S1, or X1 visa must be transferred into residence permit at local public security authorities within 30 days of entry into China. Once approved, the permit holder will be allowed to stay in China or enter/exit China multiple times for the duration of the validity of the permit.
China has been adjusting the entry policies from time to time based on the epidemic prevention and control situation, and so far, there are four major announcements that have been released and implemented.
On March 26, 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China (MOFA) released the Announcement on the Temporary Suspension of Entry by Foreign Nationals Holding Valid Chinese Visas or Residence Permits, announcing that it will suspend the entry of most foreign nationals into the country from March 28, 2020.
Under the policy, from 0 a.m. March 28, 2020, foreigners who hold the following visas were not allowed to enter China:
The ban also applied to those who planned to enter the country under the following policy:
Those who held diplomatic, service, courtesy, or C visas were not affected. Also, foreigners coming for necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities, or out of emergency humanitarian needs, were allowed to enter China by applying for the special visa with the invitation letter issued by the Foreign Affairs Office. The new visas issued after March 28, 2020 were not affected.
This policy applied to foreigners from all countries.
On September 23, 2020, the MOFA released the Announcement on Entry by Foreign Nationals Holding Valid Chinese Residence Permits of Three Categories, announcing that foreigners with valid residence permits for work, personal matters, and reunion, would be allowed to enter the country without needing to re-apply for new visas starting from 0 a.m., September 28, 2020.
Under the policy, if the above residence permits had expired – after March 28, 2020 – the holders could re-apply for relevant visas by presenting the expired residence permits and relevant materials to the Chinese embassies or consulates. But no invitation letter would be required. The re-application had to be on the condition that the purpose of the holders’ visit to China remained unchanged.
All other measures in Phase I continued to be implemented.
This policy applied to all countries.
In early November, due to the explosive outbreak of COVID-19 in some countries, several Chinese embassies released the Notice on the Temporary Suspension of Entry into China by Non-Chinese Nationals in the (Country) Holding Valid Chinese Visas or Residence Permits, announcing that foreign nationals from these countries will not be able to enjoy the Phase II relaxation.
Under this policy, foreigners from these countries will need to fully follow the entry rules set during Phase I restrictions. The new visas issued after November 3, 2020 were not affected.
This policy applied to foreign nationals from the UK, France, Italy, Belgium, Russia, Ukraine, Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and South Africa.
In early March 2021, several Chinese embassies released the Notice on Providing Facilitation for Visa Applicants Inoculated with COVID-19 Vaccines Produced in China, announcing that travelers who have received Chinese COVID-19 vaccines and obtained the vaccination certificate will enjoy facilitation for visa applications starting from March 15, 2021.
Under the policy, the following facilitation measures are provided:
To be noted, the above visa facilitation applies only to applicants who have been inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines produced in China, having either received two doses of Chinese-made vaccines with the stipulated gap in between, or received a single-dose Chinese-made vaccine at least 14 days prior to the application, and obtained the vaccination certificate. Also, the requirement that personnel intending to travel to China need to present double-negative certificates of nucleic acid and antibody (IgM) tests remains unchanged. The relevant Chinese quarantine policies shall be observed after entering China.
This policy applies to foreigners from all countries.
Based on the above-mentioned policies, different foreigners may adopt different entry strategies based on their visa type/status, nationality, and vaccination status.
If you are a holder of diplomatic visa, service visa, courtesy visa, or C visa (under ordinary visa), you should follow the entry policies set before the travel ban, that is, the Phase I policy implemented since March 28, 2020.
If you are not a holder of the above visas, but have been inoculated with China-made COVID-19 vaccines properly (that is, either vaccinated two doses of Chinese-made vaccines with the stipulated gap in between or a single-dose Chinese-made vaccine at least 14 days prior to the application) and obtained the vaccination certificate, then:
If you are not a holder of diplomatic visa, service visa, courtesy visa, C visa (under ordinary visa) and you have not been inoculated with China-made vaccines properly, then the entry strategy will depend on your nationality:
As a professional business service provider, we can provide you necessary support in understanding the most updated polices and status on a timely manner; should you have requests, please contact us without hesitation; you are welcome to email us at China@dezshira.com.
The sources are from Chinese government authorities, but our inference or interpretations do not represent that of government authorities. If there is any inaccurate or misleading information here, please correct us. In addition, as repeatedly being stressed, as the policy changes from time to time, we will try our best to repost the relevant news in due course but please kindly note that the applicable range/rules for countries and/or applicants might be adjusted even as we update this article as the pandemic is in varying stages across the world.
China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done so since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dezan Shira & Associates has offices in Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, United States, Germany, Italy, India, and Russia, in addition to our trade research facilities along the Belt & Road Initiative. We also have partner firms assisting foreign investors in The Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh.
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