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Foreigners’ Work Permit Application and Renewal: Recent Changes

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent travel bans, many expatriates who had returned their home countries have been restricted from re-entering China. As a result, renewing their Chinese work permits has become a complicated matter for those stranded.

Although the Chinese government has issued a temporary policy allowing foreigners to renew their work permits remotely, the process has not been fully solved because of the difficulties in renewing foreigners’ residence permits – the expiration of their residence permits may impede a second renewal of their work permits.

Besides, in July, some local governments appear to have tightened rules on work permit applications in a move to deter people from setting up shell companies solely for visa purposes.

It is highly advisable that expatriates are aware of these policy changes and make appropriate and adequate preparations.

China work permit renewal on remote basis

To help expatriates stranded overseas on their Chinese work permit renewal, many local foreign offices have released the temporary policy. For example, on Feb 1st, the Shanghai Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs has announced the Notice on the implementation of the “no-visit” examination and approval for all matters related to the work permit for foreigners in Shanghai.

According to the policy, applicants for renewal of work permits were no longer required to bring the original application documents to the local foreign affairs office in China. Instead, by making a commitment on the authenticity of the documents, applicants can renew their work permits remotely.

The above policy has greatly assisted the process for foreigners’ work permit renewal; however, some issues have not been fully addressed.

Since there has been no policy update on residence permit renewal, foreigners still need to be present in China and provide their entry records in order to renew their residence permits. In fact, a large number of foreigners got their work permits renewed but had to let their residence permits get expired.

Things may become trickier after 12 months when the work permit needs to be renewed again. As there is still no change on rules regarding residence permit renewal, those who were not able to renew their residence permit last year, may not be able to renew their residence permit this year, either.

However, because a valid resident permit is one of the primary requirements for the renewal of a work permit, without a valid residence permit, expatriates stranded outside China may not be able to renew their work permits anymore.

Upon our confirmation with the Shenzhen foreign affair office staff, there are some solutions: expatriates can ask their Chinese employers to cancel their work permit or they can just let the work permit expire itself. Then, when it is time to return to China, applicants can reapply for the work permit as their first-time application.

In this case, we suggest that they make the following preparations in advance:

  • Apply for a new non-criminal record and get it notarized before you are planning to come to China.

  • Make sure to get the COVID-19 vaccine to protect your health.

  • Keep track of the latest policies released on the Chinese embassy’s website in your home country – sometimes different embassies in the same country may not be synchronized on the policy update, make sure you check them all once in a while.

Tightened rules on work permit application

On top of the worrisome news, in July, the Guangdong province foreign affair office appears to have tightened rules on work permit application. This can be a big hurdle for start-up companies, since obtaining a work permit is often the first step towards sending employees to China.

Additional application materials required

Some first-time work permit applicants are now requested to provide additional materials that were never requested before, including (for your very general reference):

  • Company office leasing contract

  • Company’s current stage operation introduction

  • Proof to show the necessity, urgency, and importance of hiring foreign nationals.

  • Contact with clients/vendors

  • Custom export sheet

In our view, the purpose of tightening the rules on work permit applications is to ensure that applicants have a genuine need to work in China, and not for other unrelated reasons. This is because during the pandemic, some foreigners set up companies in China seemingly only for obtaining a work visa.

Differentiated application requirements for different positions

From our recent experience, compared with the other executive positions, it seems that a company’s legal representative needs fewer supporting documents to receive the approval.

The reason is because the legal representative of a Chinese company will need to physically show up for some company-related procedures, such as going to the bank for basic bank account setup, setting up a company tax account at the tax bureau, and completing the real-name authentication test.

However, the legal representative now needs to sign a labor contract, instead of simply uploading a business license. Also, the legal representative must have some type of job title in the company.

For those who are not the legal representative of the Chinese company, more documents should be prepared in advance to support the application.

Commitment to hire Chinese employees

Finally, in the recent work permit system feedback we received from the Guangzhou SAFEA, companies hiring foreigners must have made or are expected to make a written commitment on hiring Chinese employees, otherwise their foreign employees’ work permits may not be renewed or applications processed.

This is also a way to ensure the company is in operations (rather than a shell firm set up for visa purposes). If the company that promised to hire Chinese employee still has not done so, the work permit renewal could also be rejected.

In addition to Guangzhou, it seems that the Shenzhen SAFEA is following suit to push companies to hire Chinese employees. For one-person companies established solely for visa purpose, the renewal application could be challenging under the current circumstances.

Source: China Briefing


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