Chinese Work Permit Overview

From October 2016, China initiated an online work-permit application system to streamline the former paper-based assessment processes to attract more foreign talents to China. The system became national from April 2017. The application materials required for submission is considerably fewer than previously required, reducing by about half the documentation needed to submit. The online application platform is with State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs (SAFEA) combining the services of State Foreign Expert Bureau and Ministry of Human Resource and Social Security (MOHRS). A nationwide administration service system for foreigners coming to China was established since then. The application and approval for people from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan remain with MOHRS which was later removed in 2018.


Foreigners are divided into three categories: A for high level talent, B for professional personnel, and C for temporary or seasonal service workers. The goal is to encourage A level foreigners to come and work in China, exert control over B levels and restrict/limit the C levels. While the new assessment system is intended to lay some control on foreign labor, it actually opens a slightly wider door and allows those who were not able to meet past assessment requirements to have their overall employability rated against a newly introduced score system (as another option). More foreigners are able to come and work in China if the combination of their salary, educational background, Chinese language fluency, past experience, and length of service generates a satisfactory score and, some go directly to A.


Chinese Work Permit and Working Visa Essentials


A Chinese Working Visa is a phase with broad meanings usually referred to when a foreigner obtains a Work Permit (Issued by SAFEA) and a Residence Permit for Working (Issued by onshore Immigration office) or a Z (Working) Visa (Issued by off-shore Chinese embassy office for entering).


Foreigners who want to work in China should first apply for a Work Permit with SAFEA after securing a job offer. The Work Permit is tied to the employer and the application should be made on the employee’s behalf by the employer, which can be outsourced to a consulting company. The Work Permit is in the form of either a Notification Letter of Foreigner's Work Permit if applying from outside China, or a Work Permit Card applied and issued within China. The holder of Notification Letter of Foreigner's Work Permit is able to enter China by applying for a Z visa (a one-time entry visa attached within one's passport) with a dedicated Chinese Embassy at home country.


Once Work Permit is granted, one should approach a relevant Immigration Office (formerly called Entry-Exit Bureau) within 30 days of entry into China to apply for the Residence Permit for Working. Note that the Notification Letter of Foreigner's Work Permit holders are required to convert the letter into a Work Permit Card before proceeding to Residence Permit.


After the Residence Permit for Working (which is a visa-looking label attached in passport) is issued, the employment becomes formal and legal. If an employee changes employers whilst in China, they will have to apply for a new Work Permit followed by a new Residence Permit for Working.


Application Handling


There are lots of interpretations and reviewing articles on Chinese work permit and working visa policies that have been published across various domestic and overseas medias that are not always accurate and sometimes can be misleading.


There are nation-wide rules and unified application guidelines and documentation requirements while there are also exemptions and region-specific restrictions or incentives. Applying for a Chinese work permit and associated working visa & residence permit requires a case-by-case analysis and documentation preparation. This is especially true to those who do not seem to meet the immediate or routine requirements. We have accumulated numerous cases and have been very experienced in the field and are ready for answering your enquiries any time.

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