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What is the procedure for hiring foreign citizens in China?

In order to be able to work in China, all foreign citizens must possess a legal work permit, and a residence permit for work purpose. Working without these is prohibited and can lead to administrative detention and even deportation, as well as fine for companies. Similar to Chinese employees (see FAQ above), representative offices can hire foreign employees only through ad hoc agencies, while WFOEs or JVs may hire them directly. In general, the procedure for hiring foreign employees is mainly based on 5 steps, which may require two or three months to complete:

  • The employer and foreign employee sign a letter of intention of employment in line with the Chinese law.
  • The employer submits a pre-application for the work permit, through an online system of the provincial-level labour bureau where it is legally established. Hard copy materials (which should include notarised and legalised copies of academic degrees, health certificates and criminal records issued by foreign institutions) will be submitted through appointment after the approval of the pre-application.
  • After the work permit is obtained, the employer will apply for an invitation letter to the business administration / industry department where it is legally established.
  • With the work permit and the invitation letter, the foreign employee applies for a Z visa to the Chinese consulate in their home country.
  • Within 30 days after entry into China, the Z visa must be converted into a residence permit for work purpose at the Public Security Bureau, which requires registration with the police and physical examination at a local hospital.

The foreign employee is not allowed to start work until the work permit is released. At the same time, the work permit is tied to the specific employer, and that the foreign employee is allowed to work only within the scope and region specified in his/her labour contract. After the labour relationship between the employer and the foreign employee is terminated, the employer must immediately cancel the work permit; foreign employees that change jobs and employers in China must, within 10 days of termination of their previous job, start the procedure for transferring their work permit to the new employer (generally a simple procedure).