Work and residence permits for foreigners

Foreigners can be hired by companies (Wholly Owned Foreign Enterprise, Joint Venture Company, Representative office, or other local Chinese companies). However, Chinese individuals or individual-owned businesses are forbidden from hiring foreigners without approval. A foreigner who is hired needs to get a work permit approved by the Chinese authorities, just like similar regulations all around the world.

The procedure to obtain a work and residence permit is as follow: First you enter China with an F or L Visa, and ask your employer to apply a work permission certificate issued by the local labour administrative bureau. Please note that you must register with the local police office within 24 hours after you enter China. Secondly, you should apply to the Chinese embassy in your home country for a Z Visa, bearing the invitation letter from the local Foreign Affairs Office and the work permission certificate,you may then enter into China again. Or if there is some special case when you are in China, you may apply to local Chinese immigration department in public security bureau for this directly, transferring your Business Visa into a Work Visa. Thirdly, your Chinese employer applies to the Labour Administrative Authority and gets a “certificate of work” which normally is not difficult. The Chief Representative and General Manager of a foreign invested company can apply for the certificate of work holding an F Visa. Fourthly, you will apply to the Local Immigration Department for a resident permit so that you will be allowed to live in China. The police may be picky and strict on this stage, such as a documentation review and especially an interview, depending on what country you are from. If you are from Middle Eastern countries, it may prove difficult.

Apparently, for a foreigner who intends to work in China, a residence permit that is controlled by the Public Security Bureau is more difficult to obtain and more important, because if the residence permit is refused then the certificate of work issued by the Labour Bureau shall be useless. The Public Security Bureau’s internal regulations are often changed on how many residence permits can be approved for one company. In the past, there were cases in Shenzhen where more than 10 resident permits in one representative office were approved by the local Public Security Bureau. Currently for one representative office there is a maximum of 3 work permits, (this includes 1 chief representative and 2 normal representatives who can get work permits). The standard of approval also varies at different times, for example, during the Olympic Games or the Congressional conference it is more difficult.

The penalty for a foreigner who works without approval in China is a fine of up to RMB 1,000 and, in the case of a serious violation, being expelled from China. The penalty for his/her employer shall be RMB 5,000 to 50,000 plus the expenses incurred for expelling the foreigner. As for employment without work and residence permits, it will be considered as labour service under Chinese labour law and does not have the benefits of overtime salary or severance etc., under to current regulations.

A Chinese residence permit is available for relatives (parents, children and spouses) of four different kinds for the respective foreigners, including foreigners that have obtained work and residence permits, foreigners who are commercial performers (eg. Musicians), a resident journalist and high level personnel or investors. As for the green card, permanent residence in China, it is very difficult to acquire. According to statistics, the average approvals per year of permanent residence for foreigners from 2004 to 2011 were only 248!