Business Immigration in China: Overview

A Q&A guide to business immigration in China.

This Q&A gives an overview of the key factors affecting business immigration, including information on the jurisdiction's sources of immigration law; relevant government entities; requirements for unsponsored and sponsored immigration; requirements for sponsors; civil and criminal penalties for sponsors; common issues and concerns; dependants; settlement and citizenship; recent trends and proposals for reform.

To compare answers across multiple jurisdictions, visit the Business Immigration Country Q&A tool.

The Q&A is part of the global guide to business immigration. For a full list of jurisdictional Q&As visit www.practicallaw.com/immigration-guide.

Edward Lehman , Lehman, Lee & Xu
Contents

Relevant governmental entities

1. What are the relevant government entities (agencies, departments, branches, bodies, and so on) relating to immigration in your jurisdiction?

Administration

The Exit and Entry Bureau under the Public Security Bureau (the primary police body of the People's Republic of China) is the main immigration regulatory authority.

Enforcement

The Exit and Entry Bureau is the primary enforcement authority.

Legislative

The National People's Congress and the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress have the right to enact immigration statutes. The Ministry of Public Security can issue regulations based on immigration laws. Both laws and regulations apply on a national level.

At the provincial level, the Provincial People's Congress and the Standing Committee of the Provincial People's Congress has can enact local regulations applicable in that province.

 

Sources and conflicts of law

Sources of law

2. What are the principal sources of law relating to immigration in your jurisdiction?

Domestic statutes, rules and regulations

The following are the principal sources of law relation to immigration in China.

The Entry-Exit Administration Law of the People's Republic of China (Entry-Exit Law). The Entry-Exit Law came into force in July 2013 and was the first overhaul of China's immigration law since 1985. It sets out separate rules for Chinese citizens and foreign individuals and contains provisions on the:

  • Types of visas.

  • Procedure for obtaining visas.

  • Procedures for:

    • a foreign individual entering China; and

    • investigating and deporting foreign individuals.

  • Requirements for a foreign individual to reside in China (including permanent residence).

The Administrative Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Entry and Exit of

Foreign individuals. The Regulations came into force in September 2013. Like administrative regulations in other countries, they clarify the law for regulatory and enforcement purposes.

Measures for the Administration of Examination and Approval of Foreign Individuals' Permanent Residence in China. The Measures came into force in August 2004 and provide additional regulation and clarification of procedures and requirements for foreign individuals wishing to obtain a permanent residence status in China.

Administration of Employment of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao Residents in the Mainland Provisions. Due to the unique status of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan, China treats the employment of individuals from these regions separately from the visa system. Individuals from these regions can work in China by obtaining an employment permit. These permits are administered by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

Case law

Judicial decisions do not serve as legal precedent in China. Occasionally, the People's Supreme Court will issue a judicial interpretation (also known as a guiding case). These are to be taken as reference rather than a formal precedent.

International law and international treaties

China is not a party of any international law or treaties in relation to immigration.

Conflicts of law

 
3. What potential conflicts (if any) arise between the various sources of law?

The Legislative Law of the People's Republic of China establishes that general higher laws are superior to lower ones. In practice, this means that while the Provincial People's Congress and the provincial-level Exit-Entry Bureau have some authority to enact regulations or policies applicable to the relevant providence, these regulations or policies must not, in theory, be in conflict with national level laws and regulations. In practice, local bureaus often find creative ways to minimise the influence or effect of national-level rules. For example, in immigration law, although national-level rules are binding, some provincial level authorities have not applied those strictly. However, the nationwide trend is towards increased and uniform application and enforcement.

If there is a conflict between domestic and international law, domestic law will prevail.

 

Business immigration

Unsponsored business-related immigration

4. What are the primary options available for unsponsored work and investment in your jurisdiction?

Existing immigration rules do not specifically create opportunities for unsponsored business- related immigration. While there is no specific rule, China does allow foreign individuals to establish a wholly foreign-owned enterprise in accordance with the Company Law and Foreign Investment Laws. A foreign individual who invests in a company can obtain a valid work permit as an employee of the company. Typically the work permit remains valid for one year at a time. Obtaining a work permit confers no special immigration or long term residence status. So long as the work permit is valid, there are no limitations on the length of time a permit holder can remain outside of China.

Investors, self-employed persons and entrepreneurs

An individual who invests (either directly or through an intermediary company) in a validly registered company in China can use that Chinese company to sponsor his or her work permit application. To obtain a work permit, the individual must:

  • Be aged between 24 and 55 if female and between 24 and 60 if male.

  • Have obtained a bachelor level degree (or higher).

  • Possess professional skills with more than two years' relevant job experience after obtaining a university degree.

  • Have no criminal record.

Beijing. New regulations in Beijing attempt to make it easier to attract international talent skilled in high tech industries. The changes focus on the Zhongguancun Science Park region of Beijing, and have been introduced by a series of targeted interim provisions issued by the Beijing Exit and Entry Bureau. The goal of these interim provisions is to assist high quality talent in obtaining residence permits and permanent residence permits in hopes of cultivating innovation in the Chinese high tech sector.

The Beijing Exit and Entry Bureau have issued the following interim provisions:

  • High-level talents (C20-1): Senior professionals with a recommendation letter from the local Administrative Committee can apply for permanent residence permits (along with spouses and young children).

  • Foreign members of innovation teams or foreign entrepreneurs (C20-2): Foreign members of innovation teams or foreign entrepreneurs can receive a residence permit on presenting a visa on arrival.

Shanghai. The Shanghai Exit and Entry Bureau has similarly issued regulations that came into force 1 July 2015, simplifying visa issues for qualified "high level" talents. "High level" talents in Shanghai include individuals invited by the:

  • Chinese national government, including the:

    • Ministry of Organisation;

    • Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security;

    • State Administration of Foreign Experts.

  • Shanghai local government, including the:

  • Shanghai Ministry of Organization;

  • Shanghai Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security;

  • Shanghai Foreign Experts bureau.

Qualifying "high level" talent individuals:

  • Can apply for a special "R" specialised talent visa directly in the airport.

  • Qualify for a residence permit if seeking employment for over 180 days.

Because of the somewhat vague requirements for obtaining an invitation from the authorities in both Beijing and Shanghai, certain wealthy and skilled investors and entrepreneurs may have an avenue for obtaining residence in China through direct contacts with these local governments.

It is expected that these types of special regulations for specific "high level" and specialised talents and entrepreneurs will increase and gradually expand throughout the country.

Business visitors

Business visitors are typically sponsored by a company or individual. Business visitors are generally permitted to engage in non-productive work activities including:

  • Attending:

    • meetings or round table discussions;

    • conferences or seminars;

    • contract discussions;

    • short-term refresher courses or job-training.

  • Visiting a current project site or factory floor for informational purposes.

  • Engaging in scientific, technical, and cultural exchanges.

  • Attending or giving lectures.

  • Auditing company accounts.

Sponsored business-related immigration

 
5. What are the options available for sponsor-based employment in your jurisdiction?

Types of sponsor-based employment visas

There is only one type of sponsor-based employment visa in China, namely, the Z visa/work permit.

General requirements

A foreign individual seeking employment in China must:

  • Be in good health.

  • Be aged between 24 and 55 if female and between 24 and 60 if male.

  • Have obtained a bachelor level degree (or higher).

  • Possess professional skills with more than two years' relevant job experience after obtaining a university degree.

  • Have no criminal record.

  • Have a clearly defined employer, evidenced by an invitation letter and preliminary employment contract.

  • Present a valid passport or other international travel documentation in lieu of a passport.

Lengths of leave

There is no minimum or maximum length of leave as long as the work permit is valid. For employment contracts without a set term, work permits with a longer duration of validity are possible. The maximum duration for a work permit is five years.

Extensions

Renewal applications must be submitted within 30 days of the permit's expiry. 

Procedure. The procedure is different for each city/province. The following is the procedure applicable to Beijing work permits:

  • Step one. The applicant must submit an online application for work permit renewal within three to five working days of submitting the online application.

  • Step two. The applicant must submit the required work permit renewal documents within three to five working days of submitting the documents.

  • Step three. The residence permit is renewed within ten working of submitting the documents.

  • Step four. The applicant must update his temporary residence registration/police registration within one working day of submitting the documents.

The required documents include the following:

  • Documents prepared by the employee:

    • original valid passport with residence permit inside, and with at least two blank visa pages;

    • original work permit;

    • copy of employment contract;

    • original temporary up-to-date residence registration form (updated for each outbound travel); and

    • three two-inch size photos (that is 3.4 by 4.5cm) or digital image photo (white background with at least 300 DPI resolution).

  • Documents prepared by employer:

    • two copies of the employer's business license stamped with the company seal (企业营业执照副本复印件2份,加盖公司公章); and

    • two copies of the certificate of approval stamped with company seal (批准证书复印件2份,加盖公司公章); and

    • the appointment and application letters on behalf of the individual to receive the work permit.

Requirements for sponsors

6. What are the requirements for becoming a sponsor of employment-based migrants and what are the role and reporting duties of sponsors?

Requirements to become a sponsor

The sponsor must be:

  • A validly registered company in China.

  • Operating a business legally in China.

The company's corporate documentation must also be valid.

Role of sponsors

Typically the sponsor company will keep the employee's work permit in the company's files. This is recommended as the company is subject to random inspection by authorities looking to identify foreign individuals potentially working illegally.

Reporting duties of sponsors

There are no official duties for employers to report the status of foreign individuals employed at the company.

Civil and criminal penalties for sponsors

7. What are the types of civil and criminal penalties that sponsors may face for non-compliance with the rules?

Civil penalties

Employers will face an administrative fine of between RMB5,000 and RMB100,000 for each illegally employed foreign individual. Illegal earnings can also be confiscated. Authorities have been much stricter in enforcing these penalties in recent years.

Criminal penalties

There are currently no criminal penalties for sponsor companies that do not comply with immigration laws and regulations.

Common issues or concerns for business immigration

8. What common issues or concerns may arise under business immigration in your jurisdiction?

The most common issues and concerns relate to:

  • Submitting false documentation as part of an application to obtain a work permit.

  • Working illegally without a valid work permit altogether (usually using an F visa intended for non-commercial activities).

  • The lack of a valid and enforceable employment contract.

Chinese companies will often assist a foreign individual in obtaining a work permit by supplying false documentation. An example of this is falsifying the employee's work history to overcome the two year work experience requirement. This leaves foreign employees at the mercy of their Chinese employer. Foreign employees, offending the wrong person, may find themselves reported to the local Exit-Entry Bureau for supplying false documentation for their visa application, or for working illegally without a valid work permit.

Employees are often not familiar with Chinese employment laws and do not insist on an effective employment contract that will be enforceable against the employer. Such employees will have no legal recourse if the employer decides not to honour the contract. Companies sometimes do not pay foreign employees their agreed salary. In some cases, they have also held the foreign employee's passport "hostage" until the employee agrees to changes to the agreement. If the employee's work permit documentation is not valid, there will be no legal basis for an action against the employer for violations of an employment contract.

 

Dependants

9. What persons qualify as dependants (for example, family members)? What are the general requirements and restrictions for bringing dependants into your jurisdiction for sponsored and unsponsored business-related immigration?

Persons qualifying as dependants

Under a valid Z visa (work permit), an applicant can include their spouse and children as dependents. The children must be under the age of 18.

General requirements and restrictions

Unsponsored business-related immigration. Not applicable.

Sponsored business-related immigration. Spouses and dependents cannot work, unless an employer independently undertakes the relevant procedures on their behalf (see Questions 4 and 5).

 

Settlement and citizenship

10. What is the general time frame and processes for obtaining permanent residence and citizenship in your jurisdiction for the above-mentioned business categories?

General process and time frame for obtaining permanent residence

Unsponsored business-related immigration.

These include:

  • Normal investors.

  • Outstanding contributions.

Normal investors. Foreign investors can apply for a permanent residence permit if they have paid-in registered capital totalling more than either:

  • US$2 million for three consecutive years.

  • US$1 million investing in interior areas of China for three consecutive years.

  • US$500,000 investing in:

    • western areas of China or in key development counties for three consecutive years; or

    • suggested investment items for foreign investors for three consecutive years.

The spouse or child of such investors can apply for a permanent residence permit at the same time.

Outstanding contributions. Foreign individuals can obtain a permanent residence permit if they:

  • Have made major and outstanding contributions to the PRC.

  • Are needed urgently by PRC.The applicant must submit the following:

  • Completed "Aliens for Permanent Residence in PRC" application form. 

  • Four recent two-inch colour photos (full face, no hat) against a blue background.

  • Valid foreign passports or identification capable of substituting passports.

  • Certificate of health issued by:

    • Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau appointed by the Chinese government; or

    • issued by foreign medical agencies accredited by Chinese embassies or consulate offices. The health certificate is valid for six months from the date of issue.

  • Proof of no criminal record abroad (recognised by Chinese embassies or consulate offices).

  • Letter of recommendation and related proofs issued by the competent authority of the Chinese government are required. 

Sponsored business-related immigration.

Foreign individuals can apply for permanent residence for employment if:

  • They have assumed either of the following posts for more than four years in a row:

    • deputy general manager;

    • deputy director of plants;

    • higher level posts;

    • posts of associate professors or associate research fellows; or

    • similar such posts.

    The foreign individual must have had a clean tax and must have worked for an accumulated period minimum three years.

  • They work in either of the following employers:

    • institutions subordinate to the various ministries under the State Council or to the provincial level people's governments;

    • major higher learning schools;

    • enterprises or institutions executing major engineering projects or major scientific projects of the State;

    • high-tech enterprises, foreign invested enterprises in encouraged type, foreign invested advanced technology enterprises or foreign invested export-oriented enterprises.

The applicant must submit the following:

  • Completed "Aliens for Permanent Residence in PRC" application form. 

  • Four recent two-inch colour photos (full face, no hat) against a blue background.

  • Valid foreign passports or identification capable of substituting passports.

  • Certificate of health issued by:

    • Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau appointed by the Chinese government; or

    • issued by foreign medical agencies accredited by Chinese embassies or consulate offices. The health certificate is valid for six months from the date of issue.

  • Proof of no criminal record abroad (recognised by Chinese embassies or consulate offices).

  • Proof of post or title of the persons issued by their employer.

  • Certificates of foreign experts or certificates of employment of aliens.

  • Registration certificate, annual inspection proof and personal tax payment proof for their employers.

  • One of the following documents (provided by the employer): 

    • for foreign-funded employers, the certificate of approval of foreign funded enterprises and proof of combined annual inspection;

    • for employers executing major engineering projects or scientific projects of the State, the relevant documents for the projects issued by the competent authorities of the provincial level people's governments or ministries; 

    • for high-industry employers, the relevant certificates for high-tech enterprises; 

    • for encouraged foreign-funded employers, a letter of confirmation of the encouraged foreign-funded projects (such as those involving new and emerging technologies, and environmental protection);

    • for foreign-funded advanced technology employers, a letter of confirmation of foreign- funded advanced technology projects; 

    • for foreign-funded export-oriented employers, a letter of confirmation of foreign-funded export-oriented enterprises.

Shanghai has special regulations offering alternative paths for a foreign individual to obtain permanent residence. A foreign individual can apply for permanent residence in Shanghai if he:

  • Holds either of the following academic titles:

    • associate professor;

    • associate researcher; or

    • any titles senior than the above.

  • Holds a post at:

    • the departments of the State Council, science or research institutes affiliated to Municipal Government, or institutions of administrative management or function.

    • key colleges and universities;

    • enterprises where key national projects or key scientific and technological projects are implemented; or

    • new and high-tech enterprises, encouraged foreign investment enterprises, foreign-invested advanced technology enterprises or foreign-invested export-oriented enterprises.

For general applications, the applicant must provide the following documents:

  • Alien permanent residence permit application form.

  • Two recent two-inch half-length, bareheaded and full-faced colour photographs with white background and two electronic copies of these.

  • Proof of possession of a valid Shanghai work permit for four consecutive years.

  • Four-year income certificate.

  • Four-year individual income tax payments.

  • Valid alien employment permit or foreign expert certificate.

  • Recommendation letter issued by the present employer.

  • Copy of annually checked enterprise business license of the employer.

  • Health certificate issued no later than six months before the date of the application (except for individuals who are under 18).

  • Certificate of no criminal records issued no later than six months before the date of the application.

  • Accompanying family members must provide:

    • a valid passport; and

    • certificates proving relation to the applicant (such a marriage or a birth certificate).

The applicant's spouse and children under the age of 18 can apply for a permanent residence card at the same time as the applicant.

Time frame. The time frame is six to 12 months if all relevant documents have been submitted. This time frame applies to general permanent residence applications rather than to the Shanghai alternative path.

General process and time frame for obtaining citizenship

There are no official laws or regulations on foreign individuals obtaining citizenship in the PRC. The applicable law is the Measures for the Administration of Examination and Approval of Foreign Individuals' Permanent Residence in China. However, the measures only deal with permanent residence and not citizenship. The relevant authorities cannot confirm the general process and time frame for obtaining citizenship. Authorities advise that applicants must bring their personal documents and meet with authorities in person. Authorities will meet with the applicant to discuss qualifications and documentation, and can request additional documentation they see fit. Because of the absence of clear regulations and a general attitude against naturalisation of foreigners, approval of a citizenship application is exceptionally rare. Qualified individuals would probably fall under the vaguely defined "outstanding contributions" category of the measures (see Question 10, General process and time frame for obtaining permanent residence).

 

Present climate and future legislation

Present climate and trends

11. What are the recent trends, both political and social, that have impacted your jurisdiction with regard to immigration policy and law?

Due to the increase in the number of foreigner individuals in China in recent years, the issues of illegal employment, illegal entry and overstay have been a huge concern in China, especially in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. There is a trend toward stricter enforcement and harsher punishments for these violations, particularly in major cities.

Future legislation

12. Are there any anticipated changes in the immigration laws of your jurisdiction?

Domestic legislation

There are no anticipated changes.

International issues

There are no anticipated changes.

 

Contributor profiles

Edward Lehman, Managing Director

Lehman, Lee & Xu

T +86 100 8532 1919
E mail@lehmanlaw.com
W www.lehmanlaw.com

Professional qualifications. Illinois, USA, Licensed Attorney.

Areas of practice. Visa and immigration; foreign investment; corporate commercial; joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions; direct sales; banking and finance; trademarks; patents; intellectual property; dispute resolution

Non-professional qualifications. Registered Foreign Expert on Legal Affairs, PRC.

Languages. English, Mandarin


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