China recently introduced a new set of rules governing the entry and exit of foreigners, titled the “Administrative Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on the Entry and Exit of Foreigners (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Regulations’).” The Regulations, which came into effect from September 1, 2013, have updated the country’s visa system and introduced several changes to the application of the residence permit, which we discuss below.
Changes to Business and Work Visas
Under the old rules, the two primary visas for business and work in China were the F visa and the Z visa. However, with the new Regulations in place, visa categories and requirements for foreigners who would like to work and do business in the country have been changed significantly.
The F visa, previously known as the business visa, was used by foreign business people who came to China on business but were not employed at a Chinese entity. However, the new Regulations have limited the scope of the visa to non-commercial purposes only, such as cultural exchanges, visits and inspections; and at the same time, introduced a new business visa – the M visa – which is applicable to foreigners coming to the country for business and trade purposes.
To apply for an M visa, foreign business visitors need to submit an invitation letter issued by their commercial partners within China. The Regulations have not listed out the specific application materials for the M visa, but the primary documents required are believed to be comparable to those of the F visa.
Under the current visa system, the Z visa is no longer the only type of visa with which foreign individuals can be employed. Foreigners may also be employed through a new type of visa – the R visa. Such visas are aimed at attracting global talents and apply to senior-level foreign professionals whose skills are urgently needed in China. Applicants for the R visa need to satisfy the requirements stipulated by the relevant competent authorities and must provide relevant documentation.
Changes to Residence Permits
In China, the residence permit allows foreigners an unlimited number of trips into and out of China during the term. The regulation has reduced the minimum validity period for work-related residence permits from the previous 1 year to 90 days, with the maximum period remaining unchanged at 5 years. Therefore, instead of relying on a business visa, any foreigner intending to do business in China for a cumulative 90 days or more may need to apply for a work permit together with a work-related residence permit.
Foreign individuals applying for work-related residence permits need to submit the following documents to the local exit and entry administration authority above the county level:
- Passport or other travel documents, along with photos and additional supporting personal documents
- Fingerprints and other human biometric information
- A health certificate with a validity of more than one year
- Work permit and other relevant supporting materials or relevant supporting documents from authorities that prove the applicant is a senior-level foreign talent or professional whose skills are urgently needed in China
Changes to Processing Time
Previously, the processing period for residence permit applications was five working days upon the receipt of the application. However, the processing period has been extended to 15 calendar days under the Regulations, and interviews may be required. As such, companies in China with foreign employees are advised to apply for visas early on behalf of their employees, as stricter visa requirements and additional processing time may impact their recruiting flexibility.
The chart below illustrates the process and the estimated time required in a normal application under the new visa system. However, depending on the location of the application, the time taken may vary.
After the application for the residence permit has been submitted, the authorities will retain the applicant’s passport while the application is pending. During this period, a notice will be issued to prove that the applicant is staying in the country legally.
The Regulations are still a work in progress and further clarification is required. It is expected that Chinese government will issue further administrative rules to facilitate the implementation of the Regulations. Companies with global mobile workforces in China are advised to stay informed of the latest developments regarding the new visa rules in order to avoid non-compliance.
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