Work Permits in China

Last updated: Jan 2021
The HR Regulations Guide for Foreign Companies in China

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.

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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)

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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?

Last updated: January 2021

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