China’s new Exit-Entry Administration Law went into effect on July 1, 2013, and significantly alters Chinese entry/exit procedures. The new law creates new visa/work permit categories for foreigners traveling to or working in China and increases various penalties and enforcement provisions relating to visa and work permit violations. The Exit-Entry Bureau continues to provide guidance on the implementation of the new rules and it is important for employers to keep abreast of such guidance as it is issued.

New visa categories. The new categories of business-related visas include the following:

  • M visa is for visits to China for commercial business and trade purposes (the new “business visitor” visa which replaces the F visa, which is still being used but for other purposes)
  • R1 and R2 visas which will allow foreigners with specialized/exceptional skills (including professional workers and senior-level managers) to stay up to 6 months (R2) or up to 5 years (R1)
  • S1 and S2 visas for dependents, with S1 visas being for long term stays exceeding 6 months and S2 visas for shorter term stays
  • Z1 and Z2 visas, with Z1 visas applying to foreigners working in China for more than 90 days (requires a residence permit) and Z2 visas applying to foreigners working in China for up to 90 days (does not require a residence permit)

There is a new Q visa is for family members of Chinese citizens or holders of Chinese permanent residency. The Entry-Exit Bureau indicated recently that family members include spouses, parents, children, spouses of children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and parents-in-law. However, this will be of limited use to foreigners, as very few foreigners are currently able to obtain permanent residency.

New requirement for evidence of dependent relationships to be notarized and legalized. Immediate family members traveling to China under the S1 or S2 visa need to provide notarized and legalized evidence of their relationship with the primary applicant in order to obtain residence permits.

New requirement for a Certificate of No Criminal Record. The new law indicates that visas will not be issued to foreigners who may endanger China’s national security or interests, disrupt social and public order or engage in other illegal or criminal activities. Many local authorities now require a certificate of no criminal record to be submitted at the very beginning of the visa/work permit process, when the sponsor applies for an employment license. If the certificate is issued by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, then it does not need to be further authenticated. However, any certificates issued by local police departments need to be notarized and legalized by the Chinese embassy or consulate.

New processing time for Residence Permits and requirement to renew Residence Permit 30 days prior to the end of its validity.  The new maximum time limit for processing residence visas was initially extended in July from 5 working days to 15 working days. However, the authorities have now shortened the maximum processing time to 7 working days. It is important to note that the authorities retain an applicant’s passport during the residence permit application process, which means the foreigner is unable to travel internationally during this period. A passport is required to check into hotels, travel by train and travel by airline within China so even domestic travel without a passport is not possible in most cases.  

The authorities have also imposed a new requirement for residence permits to be renewed at least 30 days prior to the end of their validity. It was previously possible to renew residence permits on the last day of their validity.

Newly-refined definition of ‘illegal employment’ and increased penalties. China is cracking down on foreigners working illegally in the country. ‘Illegal employment’ includes:

  • Working in China without a valid employment license, work permit and residence permit, unless an exemption has been obtained
  • Working for an employer other than the sponsor of the work permit
  • Engaging in activities beyond the scope permitted by the work permit
  • Foreign students working without authorization or beyond the scope of school-related campus work

Increased enforcement of business visitors/workers distinction: China is moving toward stricter enforcement measures against foreigners and foreign companies operating in China. Employers in China who violate immigration laws face penalties and fines of up to RMB100,000. They also could be prevented from sponsoring further work permit applications or identified in the media as not respecting local laws and customs.

The key take away from the above is that many aspects of the new process will require more time, so it is important for both employers and employees to plan ahead, know what is required and manage expectations in terms of scheduling and business travel. Additionally, penalties for non-compliance have increased significantly.