How to Transfer a Work Permit to a New Employer in China

Posted by Reading Time: 6 minutes

By Hugo Butcher Piat

For foreigners working in China, the work permit is a crucial document that must be attained prior to commencing work. The work permit is tied to your employer, which means that when changing jobs, the work permit must also be transferred to the new employer.

Transferring an existing work permit from one employer to another usually takes around 4-6 weeks, though some applications may take up to 12 weeks to complete. Because the application process can be lengthy, it is best to be prepared for what lays ahead at each stage of the process.

Below, we outline the documents and steps required to complete this process.

What is a work permit?

There are two work visa categories in China: the Z Visa (Work); and the R Visa (High-level Talent). Each has a different scope and is granted according to the applicant’s background and the type of work he or she will be performing in China.

The key points are:

  • Z Visa: Issued outside of China and needed to enter the country. Covers most work roles, both skilled and unskilled (including managerial, technical, research, and education).
  • R Visa: Issued outside of China and needed to enter the country. Covers highly-skilled work roles (e.g. senior management and other high value positions).
  • Work permit: This needs to be applied for after you have entered the country. Allows you to work legally in China.
  • Residence permit: This needs to be applied for after you have entered the country. Allows you to reside in China and to travel in and out of the country an unlimited number of times (during validity).

Your visa and residence permit are both affixed inside your passport. The work permit is a separate laminated card, much like a driver’s license. This is the document that we will focus on here.

Keep in mind that as of April 2017, a new work permit system was implemented across China. Since then, the overall process and documentation required for foreigners applying for a work permit or visa has been revised. These revisions aim at adopting an online type database to increase efficiency. Such changes tend to take effect gradually rather than immediately.

Related-Link_CB-icons_2017RELATED: HR and Payroll in China: Eight Quick Tips That Can Make a Difference

Transfer your work permit in two steps

Step 1: Cancel the current work permit

To transfer your work permit to a new employer, you first need to cancel your current or previous work permit.

To do this, notify your current employer to cancel your work permit. The employer will have access to the online system and can access the appropriate cancellation forms via their account.

The relevant forms are:

  • “Application Form for Cancellation of Foreigner’s Work Permit”; and
  • “Proof of Cancellation of Work Permit for Foreigners Working in China”.

A work permit will be canceled if it has:

  1. Been canceled on request (by employee);
  2. Expired and has not been renewed; or
  3. Been revoked by the government bureau in charge.

A former employer should apply for cancellation of a work permit within 10 working days from when an employment relationship ceases. So for past work, in most cases you can expect that the cancellation has already taken place.

Note that the reason for cancellation of the work permit will be included on the cancellation certificate. So, consider your relations with your current or previous employer and consider the future impact of any negative information that may be included here.

Step 2: Apply for a new work permit

The two key documents that your new employer will need to apply for here are:

  • “Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work Permit in China”; and
  • “Foreigner’s Work Permit”.

However, the application is slightly different depending on whether the applicant’s new position is in the same field or a different one. So, you will need to determine whether or not your occupation will change at the time of your transition.

Consider whether you will have either:

Option A: A new employer and the same occupation

This means you can stay in China during the application process and will not need to apply for a new Z or R visa. However, your residence permit must still be valid at the time of application for you to remain in China for the duration of the transfer.

Option B: A new employer and a new occupation

This means you must leave China and re-enter on a new Z or R visa. This option differs from the first since it requires those documents relevant to proving that you are qualified for the new occupation. These include relevant certificates and employment history related to the new occupation.

What defines a ‘new occupation’ has not been made explicitly clear by the authorities. However, it can be deduced, for example, that if you are currently an English teacher and your new occupation will be as a consultant, naturally the requirements and work experience for the new role will be different. So, consider whether or not the nature of the new role differs from the current or previous one.

If you are still unsure, it is best to contact your local Entry and Exit Bureau or Labor Bureau as local requirements may differ and the local authority will ultimately make the decision.

Documents required

The following documents should be provided to your employer as you prepare to apply for your new work permit. You will need to provide:

  1. Application form for Foreigner’s Work Permit;
  2. Verification of past employment (not required if occupation will remain the same);
  3. Criminal record certificate (issued within last 6 months);
  4. Physical examination record for foreigner or overseas Chinese;
  5. Copy of the job contract or appointment letter (from new employer);
  6. Passport;
  7. ID photo;
  8. Information of accompanying members; and
  9. Letter of Cancellation from your previous employer.*

*The letter of cancellation is not required in some regions. Also, if you obtained your current work permit after the new work permit card system was introduced in April 2017, then you will not require this document.

Professional-Service_CB-icons-2017 HR and Payroll Services at Dezan Shira & Associates

As mentioned above, the transfer process can take anywhere from 4-12 weeks to complete. In general, it takes five working days for the initial application to be accepted for processing; 10 working days for the authorities to review the application materials; and 10 working days for the new work permit to be approved and issued. For high-level talents (Tier A applicants), the latter two steps take five days each.

In practice, however, the transfer process often takes longer, particularly if the applicant is required by the authorities to submit additional materials. The time frame is also affected by extraneous factors such as the number of applications the bureau must process.

Common pitfalls

Some companies are not eligible to employ foreigners. Make sure to confirm with your new employer whether or not they have a Foreign Work Permit System account and whether or not they are capable of hiring foreigners at all.

The point here is to do your homework before giving notice at your current role. If you are unsure about how to engage your new employer on this point it would be wise to take the approach that you are keen to understand everything about the permit process prior to making any commitments, as one should be. Be direct with your employer since you are the one who will lose out if your inquiries are not thorough enough.

It may be the case that some employers or workplace staff are difficult to get along with. This is generally out of one’s control. However, since the Chinese work permit is effectively tied to your employer, it is in your interest to keep relations with your employer civil, especially if difficulties arise.

Never break a contract illegally and refrain from engaging in behavior that may be construed as negative. Both instances above may be recorded against you at the time that your work permit is canceled. Such information may hinder future work permit applications.

From the employer’s perspective, properly managing and documenting the work permit transfer process decreases exposure to a labor dispute with the departing employee. A departing employee whose work permit transfer gets rejected by the authorities, for example, may blame his or her former employer for the result. Employers may enlist the services of a third party to assist in managing the work permit transfer process and reduce exposure to potentially damaging labor disputes.


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30 thoughts on “How to Transfer a Work Permit to a New Employer in China

    Dave Williamson says:

    Thanks for this. I am currently coming to the end of my contract with Employer A. I received a great offer from New Employer B which Employer A couldn’t match so I signed a new contract with B and informed A. A said no problem to help me with the Visa transfer to B. To make it go as smooth as possible I had my Recruiter directly contact my current employer and work together to get the transfer done efficiently. This is working really well as the recruiter has a vested interest (getting their fee from employer B) in making sure they deliver the goods. It’s June 14th. My contract will expire on July 14th and my Residence Permit on July 31. It will take my school one week to get the release letter and related docs, such as the cancelled contract. They do this online and its relatively straightforward. Next, my new school can then apply for the new work permit which will take around 20 days. If everything isn’t completed before my Residence Permit expires I can just get a three month extension, no big deal. I’ll let you know how this whole thing goes as there’s not a lot of info on specific cases since they changed the system in 2017.

    Kyle Grimes says:

    Dave, how can you get a three-month extension? I’m exactly in the same boat you are. July 31 expiration date for residence permit. Thanks!

    Mark says:

    Is moving from an Accounting Finance Manager to an Auditing Job (big 4 firm) constitue “same occupation”?

    Bryan says:

    Sorry to tell you, but you will not be able to get an extension that allows you to stay in China while you transfer your work permit. You can get an extension visa to stay in China, but not transfer work permit. If the time runs out, you’ll have to leave China, (my coworker just had to do this), and go to Hong Kong or somewhere, and pay an agent to assist in sorting it out. You’ll also have to start the whole process and submit documents as if you are applying for your first work permit. All of the fees and extra money will be on your shoulders…

    Bryan says:

    I have a very relevant question. I’m trying to change jobs to Employer B from Employer A in Guangzhou. Employer B tells me they need me to cancel my work permit much sooner than it expires to give them time to make sure there are no errors or problems with it. I met with the HR dept where I work at Employer A, and I asked if I could cancel the work permit two months before the contract ends (I’m teaching and will be on holiday). They said it’s impossible to cancel the work permit without cancelling the contract, and if I want full pay then I need to wait until the end of the contract date. This would force me to start the whole process from scratch again, and I wouldn’t be able to start my new job, because then they will be spending a month or however long trying to get a new work permit. I’m just curious if there is some way I can get around this. Effectively, I would quit the month before my contract finishes, and will have to forgo any salary and bonuses owed for that time period. Any other possible way to get around this or a strategy to recommend?

    China Briefing says:

    Hello Mark,

    It would likely be considered as the same field for the purposes of a work permit transfer. However, we recommend you contact the local labor bureau to confirm. For more information, please contact our HR specialists: https://www.dezshira.com/services/payroll-human-resource-administration

    China Briefing says:

    Hello Bryan,

    It is generally the case that applicants will have to wait several weeks in between leaving their previous job and starting their new one while waiting for the work permit transfer process to be completed. Only once the new work permit has been granted will you be able to legally begin your new job.

    For more information, please contact our HR specialists: https://www.dezshira.com/services/payroll-human-resource-administration

    Tarik says:

    I have a question about visa transfer i worked in Shanghai for 2 years but my company wanted to move me to Hangzhou and transfer my work visa to Hangzhou from Shanghai. They did all the steps including cancelling my work visa from shanghai and now i just found out that i got denied a work visa in hangzhou i still have my residency permit in shanghai but i don`t have work permit. What can I do in this situation?

    China Briefing says:

    Hello Tarik,

    You may want to liaise with your employer and the local labor bureau to get an explanation of the reason your work permit was rejected.

    For advisory on your situation, please contact our HR professionals: https://www.dezshira.com/services/payroll-human-resource-administration

    Ellie Gillies says:

    Hi,
    Great article very helpful. Just curious, I’ve just accepted a job from another school and am in the process of getting my documents in order, my current school is saying that they have to cancel both my work card AND my residence permit as it is a liability on their part if I’m still connected to the school via my residence permit. They want to do this however while I am still in the country. From everything I have read, this is untrue and illegal. can you please advise soon? As they intend on cancelling everything on Monday!

    Lucy says:

    Hello,

    I completed my contract with employer A at the beginning of January and I already had an offer from employer B. I started working with employer B a week before my contract ended with A, just to make sure I had my documents together. After informing employer A that I needed the release letter and cancellation letter, they informed me that it’d be at least 3 or 4 weeks before they could get me those documents (mostly due to the Spring Festival coming up) and that they’d help transfer the work permit to employer B–to make getting the work permit a bit easier; I agreed, because I’m not familiar with the process or steps on getting those documents. I returned to America for the holiday to visit family but I was told by employer B that waiting more than 10 days after my work permit has been canceled could cause issues. It’s not the beginning of February and I still don’t have a work permit, I’m currently in America and I’m not sure what’s going to happen. So, my question is what could happen if I return and don’t have a valid work permit? Also, what’s the time restriction after an employer has canceled your permit before you have to leave the country (I’ll be in the industry)? Or what other issues might I face? I’m really worried & have anxiety about the whole thing.

    Phil G says:

    Hi

    I would appreciate your help. I had to leave my contract early as my employer turned out to be a rogue school. My former employer wants to employ me again, but the the rogue school refuses to habd over the cancellation letter. Is it required if I return to my home country and start the process from scratch? Both employers are in Jiangsu Province.

    Thank you for your help.

    Adrian says:

    I’m currently technically still under contract with my current employer, can i transfer the work visa if I get release papers from them?
    What if I don’t get release papers? And my current employers cancel my work visa without letting me to transfer my work visa to a new employer?

    China Briefing says:

    Hello Adrian,

    Please contact our HR specialists for advisory on your situation: https://www.dezshira.com/services/payroll-human-resource-administration

    Flo says:

    Thank you for the interesting article! I understand that if you change employers you need to transfer the work permit, but would it be possible to have two work permits simultaneously?

    I will be moving to China as an ESL teacher in August, and have been told that I will likely get part-time hours in my role. I would prefer to work more and so have been considering applying to additional positions once my location and schedule is confirmed, but am unsure if simultaneous permits are ever issued.

    China Briefing says:

    Hello,

    Normally it’s only possible to have one work permit at a time. For more information, please contact our HR specialists: https://www.dezshira.com/services/payroll-human-resource-administration

    China Briefing says:

    Hello Phil,

    Please contact our HR specialists for advisory on your situation: https://www.dezshira.com/services/payroll-human-resource-administration

    China Briefing says:

    Hello Lucy,

    If your residence permit is still valid, you should be able to re-enter China even if your new work permit has not yet been granted. The cancellation of the work permit doesn’t determine whether you need to leave the country per se, unless your previous employer also takes steps to cancel your residence permit or the residence permit expires.

    For advisory on your situation, please contact our HR specialists: https://www.dezshira.com/services/payroll-human-resource-administration

    China Briefing says:

    Hello Ellie,

    Employers are not obligated by law to cancel the residence permit, but often opt to do so to avoid legal responsibility if the former employee breaks a law or runs into other issues. For advisory on your situation, please contact our HR specialists: https://www.dezshira.com/services/payroll-human-resource-administration

    JB says:

    If you are transferring your work permit from one company to another and its the same position, its quite easy. Your old company must cancel your current work permit. They apply online and wait 5 days for a response, then they make an appointment go in person with your work permit card and then you wait about 5 days. All in all it takes about 10 working days. Then your old employer will send your new employer your cancellation letter (its needed) and they will apply online (word of note…make sure your new work contract is dated after the cancellation…mine got rejected the first time because my new contract started before the cancellation of the old work permit). Your new company will apply online and get an outcome in about 4 working days. Then your new company must make an appointment to take in your passport and old work card and they will be given an approval letter from that office. With this paper you can extend your current visa so you can remain in china. After about 5 working days you will get your new plastic work permit card. Then finally your company will take you to PSB to get your Residence Permit. You will get your passport back after 10 working days. If your company makes an appointment at the PSB its 5 working days.

    Michael Gordon Scott says:

    If transferring employers from Beijing to a Shanghai company( same occupation) is it required that the previous work permit and residence permit have to be cancelled? If on the new style work permit is it possible to just transfer the work permit? If transferring the work permit the previous documents such as authenticated degrees and criminal record are not needed(provided copies of to attain current permit but copies were kept by the issuing agency), only a release letter work permit and new employers details are needed?

    vera says:

    What do I do if my work permit has been cancelled but I want to start the work Z process again with a new school in China? I worked at a school for over a year and family things came up. I decided I wanted to go home to be with my family. I gave my school a four month notice and told them in early October that I was leaving in late January. I had a family issue that I needed to tend to and I gave them a letter from my mother and it was notarized. They then asked me for a copy of my mother’s passport. I gave it to them since I wanted to prove that I had nothing to hide. When I signed my termination letter they said they will prosecute me if I work in China before July 2019 or if they find out if I am “lying.” Now that my mom is feeling okay and things are falling into place at home I would like to return to Asia but really to China. My finacé lives in China and we have been away from each other. There is a school that is interested but they said they NEED a reference letter with a government stamp from my previous employer in order to apply for the new work visa. I have the letter of the cancellation of my work permit. But I highly doubt my previous school will give me a reference letter after the way they treated me when I decided to leave. I did everything legally and by the book. My contract said that all a teacher needs to do to terminate a contract is give a three months’ notice and pay back fees. I did both! Can I reapply for a work Z visa without a reference letter from my previous Chinese employer? The HR woman from this new school says it is requirement to get this letter because I am already in the system as having had a work Z visa. Is this true? So if my previous employer never gives me that reference letter that means I can never work in China again.

    Waldo says:

    Hello. I’m wondering if it’s no problem or how difficult it is to transfer work permits from one city in Guangdong to another (like from Dongguan to Guangzhou or Guangzhou to Shenzhen) in the same field. I was there years ago but I can’t find clear-cut info on it right now and I know they significantly change the rules with major cities sometimes and I know there are different cities listed on the work visas, so I don’t know how tightly they try to bind you to the city you started working in. Thanks

    JR says:

    Hi,

    Based on JB’s post above, I am wondering whether the second step (bringing your card in for an appointment) needs to be done in person or if it can be done through mail, as I’ve seen both methods mentioned before.

    Thanks…

    Tina says:

    Am moving to China soon.my agent is telling me he will get me awork permit but Ihave to reach China and search for ajob.then after one year am supposed to be responsible for renewing my own Visa.how true is this…if I have no job then work Visa permit is issued by who….

    China Briefing says:

    Hello.

    Generally speaking, you must be sponsored by an employer to acquire a Z visa and then a work permit. If you do not have a job offer, then you usually cannot get a work permit.

    For more information, please refer to this article: https://www.china-briefing.com/news/china-work-permits-are-you-a-b-c-tier-talent/

    Shamala says:

    Hello
    I arrived in China last week on a z visa and a signed contract with a kindergarten training centre. I secured the job whilst I was in South Africa via an agent. The principal does not want to honor the contract. He says he will get the work permit for me and I can transfer it to a new school.
    He is refusing to pay me any money, for salary or to reimburse my flight.
    1. What recourse do I have?
    2. Can I remain legally in China and look for another job?

    China Briefing says:

    Hello,

    You may be eligible to file labor arbitration with your employer.

    The Z visa generally allows you to stay in China for 30 days after entry – it is the residence permit, which is associated with your employment, that allows you to stay longer.

    For more information, please contact our HR specialists here: https://www.dezshira.com/services/payroll-human-resource-administration

    david says:

    I worked for a company for one year with residence permit and work permit issued by the company and after residence permit expired I let my company cancel my work permit but we didn’t cancel my residence permit. Now it’s been more than a month and I have different type of visa now. So, is there a possible trouble outcome regarding not cancelling expired residence permit when I exit/enter China? If so is there anything I can do to fix the problem?

    Melissa Cyrill says:

    Hello,
    Theoretically, it is not a problem if you did not stay in China illegally after your previous residence permit expired. However, you are suggested to confirm with the entry-exit bureau. Shanghai entry-exit bureau: 021-28951900; Beijing entry-exit bureau: 010-84020101

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