In order to be able to legally work in China, foreign workers must possess: (i) a work permit linked to a specific employer, and (ii) a residence permit for work purpose. Work under any other categories of visa is prohibited and can lead to detention and even deportation. In recent years, however, China has introduced more flexibility for hiring foreign interns in mainland China, specifically:
- Foreign students studying in Chinese universities and therefore already based in China: they can apply for an “internship remark” on their residence permit for study purpose, which needs to be approved in written form by the student’s university (overseas student office). After the “internship remark” is obtained, foreign students can legally start their off-campus internship.
- Foreigners studying in foreign universities and based abroad, only have one option: being invited for internships by ‘renowned’ enterprises or institutions registered in China. In this case, foreign interns will need to apply to an S2 visa with an “internship remark”, which will have a duration of maximum 180 days.
It is not recommended for foreign interns to enter China with other categories of visas, such as tourism or business. Although until recently a very common practice, this is illegal and can lead to detainment and even deportation (and consequent multi-year ban from re-entering China). It is also noteworthy that a number of countries, e.g. France, are negotiating or have successfully negotiated bilateral agreements with China to allow the exchange of fresh graduates looking for internships.
Please note that, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the issuance of new visas is suspended; entry into China is granted – under extremely tough quarantine measures – only to foreign citizens in possession of valid residence permits (for work or family reunion purposes). Only in exceptional cases may foreigners without a valid residence permit be allowed to enter China.