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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 such permits prohibited and can lead to administrative detention and even deportation, as well as fine for companies.

Similar to Chinese employees, foreign employees can only be hired directly by WFOEs and JVs; representative offices must hire them through third-party HR agencies. The procedure for hiring foreign employees is mainly based on 5 steps:

  • The employer and foreign employee sign a letter of intention of employment in line with the Chinese law, and obtain a health certificate after a physical examination.
  • 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 commerce/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 his/her 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.

The foreign employee is not allowed to start work until the work permit is released. This applies regardless of whether the foreign employee is already based in mainland China or not. The entire procedure may take as long as 4 months.

It must be noted that 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 start the procedure for cancelling the work permit of the foreign employee. 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 – which is much simpler.

Please note that, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the issuance of new work permits and Z 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.