Work Permits in China

Last updated: Sep 2020
The HR Regulations Guide for Foreign Companies in China

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Regulations in China change relatively frequently. For the most up-to-date regulations, please check in with us.

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    Doing business in China via remote control is difficult– you need an employee you trust to be your local eyes and ears. Fortunately, a new “user-friendly” platform is simplifying the work permit application process. Since its implementation, foreigners who are eligible to take up work in China are divided into 3 categories based on their level of expertise. Let’s take a look.

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    Work Permits in China

    Paperwork in China can be quite a headache. It is time-consuming, confusing, and written in Chinese. In the past, international employees-to-be in China had to deal with a laborious collection of letters and filling out endless amounts of tedious documents until they received the coveted visa.

    Fortunately, a reform launched in 2017 has facilitated this process. Today, the Alien Employment Visa and the Foreign Expert Permit (commonly known as Z and R visas, respectively) have been merged into a one work permit. The big news is that this streamlined and fast-tracked application process can be completed online.

    A classification of talents

    From 2017, foreign employees in China carry the same single work permit. However, these permits are divided into 3 categories determined by their level of expertise:

    • A – high level of expert
    • B – professional worker
    • C – temporary / seasonal non-technical worker

    Qualifications for each category:

    Two different methods have been established to determine the qualifications criteria:

    • A grading system
    • A list of prerequisites

    It is important to remember that the first condition that must be met in order to be able to work in China is to have a local employer who wishes to hire you. Without it, and without supportive documents, one cannot apply for a Chinese work permit.

    The scoring system

    To gauge the applicant’s qualification, the system takes into account a number of parameters such as years of experience, educational background, a knowledge of the Chinese language, age, employment location, etc. The points assigned to each category are summed together and grant the applicant’s status:

    • 85 – A level (held by nearly 16% of expats in China)
    • 60-84 – B level (held by nearly 61% of expats in China)
    • 59 – C level (held by nearly 22% of expats in China)

    A list of preconditions

    In addition to the grading system, a number of preconditions define whether an applicant falls under tier A, B or C. Once applicants meet any of the required conditions, they are accredited the equivalent permit level. Here are a few of the conditions attached to each tier:

    A level

    • Occupied a key position at a Fortune 500 company
    • Applying for a senior position in a WFOE (chairman, legal representative etc.)

    B level

    • A bachelor degree holder with at least 2 year of relevant experience
    • Internationally recognized with a skill that is in high demand in the Chinese market

    C level

    • Applying for a short-term position (less than 90 days)
    • Young interns

    NOTE: Work permits applications and extensions in Shanghai are now being submitted online, as part of new regulations that have been issued during the Corona pandemic.

    What’s in it for you?

    A higher level comes with greater benefits!

    The main factor affected by the level of work permit is the ease of application. As expected, applicants eligible for A level enjoy a “green channel”, which means substantially fewer documents to submit and shorter process completion times.

    The lower the permit level, the harder the application. The process is more controlled for B level holders, and much stricter for C’s. In addition, the validation period for B and C level is shorter.

    The enhanced platform’s main intention is to ease the work permit application process, both for the foreign applicant and the local employer. Moreover, it is a unique way for the government to signal that it wishes to attract and welcome more A level experts who can contribute to the Chinese economy.

    So which category do you fall under?

    Regulations in China change relatively frequently. For the most up-to-date regulations, please check in with us.