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Your Guide to China Visas for Work Purposes
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A booming economy has made China an attractive place to work for many expats. And whilst it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of what the Middle Kingdom has to offer, you may just want to take a step back for a moment and consider how you will face the somewhat arduous task of getting a China visa.
Whether you travel to China for full-time work, a business trip or any other purpose, getting the right visa is crucial. Below we bring you your guide to China visas for work to help you make an informed decision about which visa category you need to apply for.
Before we get into the detail, let’s remind ourselves why getting the right visa is so important. Certain visa categories denote certain types of work. A Z-visa for instance, is for those who intend to work in China full time. A J-visa is for those who intend to work as a journalist. An M-visa is for those who intend to travel to China for a business trip. The list goes on. Ensuring you have the right visa is crucial. By not doing so, you open yourself up to a whole host of legal difficulties when you arrive in China.
DO NOT be tempted to get the wrong visa just because it makes things faster and easier. It will only come back to bite once you arrive in China. For instance, some unscrupulous employers may tell you to get an L-visa (for tourism) because it can be processed relatively quickly and therefore help you get to China sooner. Working on an L-visa however, is illegal. Not to mention you will not have any guaranteed rights if your employer tries to take advantage of you. They may tell you to do this because it makes things easier for them. But they will not have to deal with the consequences. YOU will. Do not put yourself at risk. Ensure you have the correct visa for work in China.
Applying for a China Visa
Regardless of which visa category you intend to apply for, you will need a passport with at least 6 months validity and enough blank pages (enough for the visa, residence permit (if applicable) and immigration stamps etc). You will also need a completed visa application form with an attached passport photo. Beyond this, there are a few other things you need to prepare in advance.
Firstly, double check that you are applying for the correct visa. For instance, if you do not know the difference between a Z-visa and an M-visa, research in advance which one is for you.
Secondly, research which documents you will need. This will vary by visa category. For instance, a Z-visa will require a notarized copy of an undergraduate degree certificate (the notarization process takes time). Whilst an M-visa may require a letter from a business partner in China. Make sure you do your research in advance.
Thirdly, research where you should apply. It could be at your nearest Chinese embassy or consulate. Or you may have a nearby China Visa Application and Service Center (known as CVASC). If it is not convenient for you to apply for your visa in person, you may want to look into using a visa agency. However, make sure you thoroughly do your research beforehand to check the agency is legitimate and reliable.
Now onto the visa categories. Let’s go through them one by one.
|Visa Type||Who’s Eligible?||Requirements|
|Z-Visa||Full-time employees in China||
– BA certificate
– Non-criminal record check
– Reference letter showing a minimum of two years’ experience
|M-Visa||For attending commercial and trade activities||
One of the following:
– An invitation letter from a Chinese business partner
– A confirmation letter by an authorized Chinese institute
– A trade fair invitation
|R-Visa||Highly-skilled talents||Certifications showing the expertise|
|J-Visa||Foreign journalists||A visa notification letter issued by the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China and an official letter issued by the media organization for which the journalist works|
|Entrepreneur Visa||Only open to graduates from Chinese universities who intend to start a business in China.||Has so far been trialled in Shanghai and Chengdu, requirements may vary by city or region.|
Who is eligible?
This is for expats who take up paid employment or “undertake commercial entertainment performances in China”. Generally this will apply to full-time workers such as teachers, copywriters and salespeople etc.
With perhaps a few exceptions, you will be asked for your BA degree certificate (China generally does not offer Z-visas to those without university education) and a non-criminal record check. Both of these documents have to be notarized by the foreign affairs office in your home country and by your nearest Chinese embassy or consulate. Be prepared for a time-consuming process.
You may also be asked for reference letters from previous employers given that many jobs in China require a minimum of two years’ experience. You should make sure each letter is signed and if possible has an official company stamp or header.
Who is eligible?
This category is for expats who go to China for commercial and trade activities. For instance, an M-visa may be issued to anyone who attends a trade fair, partakes in business negotiations, carries out factory visits etc.
Applicants will need one of the following: an invitation letter from a Chinese business partner; a confirmation letter issued by an authorized Chinese institute or relevant unit; a trade fair invitation.
Any invitation letter should include applicants full name, date of birth, passport number, the applicant’s intention of the visit, a schedule, as well as information from the inviting party including an official stamp.
China also issues F-visas. These are for those who intend to partake in exchanges, study tours or other short-term non-business activities. If these apply to you, you may be better to apply for this category.
During my time in China, I have heard on the grapevine of those who apply for an M-visa with the intention of taking a paid job in China. DO NOT do this. If you intend to work, you must get a Z-visa. M-visas are strictly for those who travel to China on business trips i.e. do not earn any money whilst in China.
Who is eligible?
This is known as a talent visa and, as the name might suggest, is for those who are highly-skilled and or have specialized qualities urgently needed in China. This may include those who join China’s accredited talents introduction programs, are internationally recognised in their field (Nobel prize winners etc.), are qualified for senior management positions in Chinese state companies and so on.
Generally for this category, applicants will need to show certification which proves they are… well… talented. Most likely applicants would also need to get such certification notarized. Again, as with all visa categories, make sure you do your research in advance.
Who is eligible?
This category applies to foreign journalists. It is divided into those who intend to reside in China for more than 180 days (J1) and those who intend to stay less than 180 days (J2).
The China embassy in the United States state the following as required documents:
“(A) visa notification letter issued by the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China and an official letter issued by the media organization for which the journalist works”.
Who is eligible?
This differs slightly from other visa types as it is only open to graduates from Chinese universities (this includes the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau). As is perhaps obvious in the name, it is for those who intend to start a business in China.
The visa is still in its early stages and has so far been trialled in Shanghai and Chengdu.
These may vary by city or region. However, as noted on 1421 Consulting Group’s website, there are some basic documents which all applicants must provide. These are as follows:
“(A) complete business plan… certificates of innovation and entrepreneurship issued by economic development zones, high-tech parks, crowd innovation spaces, incubators and other professional platforms”.
Applicants should apply for an S1 visa with an “entrepreneur” remark. You should then “transfer it to a residential permit for private affairs with a special entrepreneurship annotation”.
Those working as crew on aircrafts, ships, trains or motor vehicles which cross international borders (airline staff etc.) will require a category C-visa.
For those who intend to do an internship in China, there is no specific visa category. China Internship Placements recommends X1 (for those who intend to stay more than 180 days) or X2 (fewer than 180 days) visa categories as the most appropriate.
For those who intend to work part-time as a student, you should gain approval from your university and local exit and entry administration (find out more here).
Once you arrive in China
You must register at the local police station within 24 hours. If you are staying in a hotel, you do not need to worry as this will all be taken care of for you. Anywhere else such as a friend’s apartment, this is something you MUST do.
Remember too that for certain visa categories, you will be required to apply for a residence permit within 30 days of arrival in China. This is true for those on a Z-visa. Your employer should help you with this. Remember that before you obtain the residence permit, you should NOT leave mainland China (NOT even to travel to Hong Kong or Macau) as you will then be unable to re-enter.
That then is your guide to China visas for work. Again it is worth emphasising the importance of getting the right visa category. The last thing you want is legal difficulties once you arrive in China.
Remember too to be patient. Getting a visa can be a long and complicated process. Rules regularly change and you may be asked for more and more documents throughout the visa process. This is perfectly normal.
Once you do get your visa for work in China, you are set to go, set to book your plane ticket and experience all the Middle Kingdom has to offer. You will probably find that when it comes to work, there are opportunities aplenty.
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