Complying With China’s New Visa Requirements for Short-Term Workers
By Mark Chong, Director, Global Immigration & Leader of Singapore Operations, Radius
Doing business in China has never been more important, but that does not make it easy. The Chinese government imposes a slew of visa, certification, permitting and licensing requirements that can complicate sending employees to work in the world’s second largest economy. Depending on how you look at it, temporary assignments to China just got a whole lot more complicated or significantly more clear with the announcement late last year of newly clarified visa requirements for some short-term workers. Understanding and complying with the regulation is important, and failure to do so could result in fines, detention and expulsion.
The move comes amidst a worldwide trend in recent years of governments clamping down on unauthorized foreign workers, increasing enforcement of existing laws, and carefully monitoring business travelers. The announcement — made jointly by the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Public Security, and Culture on November 6, 2014 and effective on the first of this year — clarifies the requirements for certain short-term workers to enter and work in China. Under the new guidelines, short-term workers (defined as those in China for 90 days or fewer) must obtain a Z Visa if they are:
- working with local business partners on tasks involving technology, research, management or guidance;
- conducting athletic training;
- filming (e.g., advertisements, documentaries);
- performing in photo shoots or fashion shows;
- performing in commercial performances; or
- engaging in other activities determined to necessitate a Z visa.
The first of this list is most likely to be relevant to our clients and readers. Examples of those covered under the provision include management consultants working with a Chinese client on a short-term engagement, visiting members of a joint research and development venture between American and Chinese companies, and an expert hired by a Chinese entity to provide technical expertise.
The Z visa does not encompass all short-term work, however. M visas are required for a number of situations, including providing and maintaining equipment or machinery, overseeing manufacturing bids, and working in the Chinese subsidiary of the foreign parent company. The seemingly overlapping criteria for Z and M visas and, frankly, the ambiguity that has often attended them, underscore the importance of consulting experts when deploying personnel to China. The potential disruptions to operations are simply too great to guess at compliance.
Employees must apply for Z visas at their local embassy or consulate in advance of deployment. It is important to factor in ample lead-time ahead of a planned deployment as the timeline for approval of Z visas is not clear and is likely to vary as the new process is implemented. Before the worker applies for the visa, the employing company must first secure an employment license, working permit and invitation letter (among other paperwork) from local authorities in China. Finally, workers in China staying in-country for 30 days or more must apply for a residence permit; this can be accomplished at the local public security bureau upon arrival.
Z visas, which are valid for 90 days, may not be extended, so employers must carefully estimate the number of days the traveler will need to be in-country. Should 90 days prove insufficient and the worker need to return to China, issuance of a second Z visa may be difficult as authorities might question the short-term nature of the visit.
To avoid running afoul of Chinese law and potentially disrupting your business, it is advisable to determine the type of visa your temporary workers will require, accurately estimate the length of time they will be needed, and complete the necessary paperwork well in advance.