Article by XIANEASE
Living la vida laowai in China can be equal parts fun and challenging, and there may be no challenge greater than trying to keep your visa renewed. Anyone who’s been through the process has probably lost sleep over it, and if you’ve not had the pleasure, thank your lucky stars.
Some might think this an understatement, but obtaining a work visa is somewhat arcane and frustrates a lot of people. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have an HR department that’s really on top of it, and much of the process is invisible to you; but for others less fortunate, or for those who just want to know what the hell is going on, we’ve collected what we know about the process as it currently exists, as well as what we know about changes to the visa system that are rumored to occur sometime this year. Just to be clear, this is going to be for Z visas; parts of this might overlap with the requirements for an X (student) visa or an F (business) visa, but they are not our focus and if you’re getting one you’ll need to check with whoever is sponsoring your visa for more details.
THE CURRENT PROCESS
It probably won’t come as much of a surprise that, to get your Z visa, you’ll have to arm yourself with a mountain of paperwork and be ready to go toe to toe with the behemoth bureaucratic machine. The following assumes you’ve already got a visa that has allowed you entry into the country, and now that you’re here you’re trying to change it into your de facto year-long visa, the residence permit.
1. GATHER YOUR DOCUMENTS
Everyone’s favorite thing in the world: paperwork. To even think about maybe getting started, you’ll need the following:
• A passport that will be valid for your entire stay (i.e. if you’re getting a visa for a year, your passport can’t expire before that year is over).
• Copies of your passport.
• Your passport must have your entry visa, or if you’re renewing, it must have your current residence permit. If you’re renewing with a new passport, be sure to have your old passport as well.
• Depending on your job title, either an “Alien Employment Permit” or a “Foreign Expert Certificate,” which should be obtained by your company. Your company should also provide their documents, such as their license and license to hire foreigners, to the police station. You really shouldn’t need to be involved in this part, besides maybe kicking some ass at HR to make sure they’re on top of it.
• The “Registration Form of Temporary Residence.” This basically declares where you’re going to be living during your stay. To get this, you’ll need a paper called “Zhu Su Zheng Ming” (住宿证明) from your neighborhood’s wu ye office, but that’s pretty easy to get if you just ask for it. Then you bring it to your local police station, ask for a “Lin Shi Zhu Su Deng Ji Biao” (临时住宿登记表), fill out a form, and they’ll give you this important document.
• A 2-inch by 2-inch photo of yourself in front of a white background. Most photography studios will know what you’re talking about if you ask for “Hu Zhao Zhao Pian” (护照照片). It’s probably a good idea to get several copies of this, because they’re crazy useful and often required for government registration documents.
• If you’re changing companies or getting your permit for the first time, a health check will be required. The biggest health check center is on the Second Ring Road at Hanguang Road, and, if you haven’t yet, you can get some of those fancy 2×2 photos there as well.
2. GO TO THE PSB
Deep breaths. You went to see the police, you went and got your health check, you got that mountain of paperwork all stacked up. The light is at the end of the tunnel.
• The PSB (Public Security Bureau) is at the intersection of Taibai Road and Keji Road. You can take a taxi there by saying “Taibai Lu Keji Lu Shi Zi Lu Kou” (太白路科技路十字路口), you can take any bus that goes to “Taibai Nan Lu” (太白南路) or you can take Metro Line 3 to Taibai Nan Lu Station. The building is on the southwest corner of the intersection.
• Go in the westernmost entrance on Keji Road and up a couple of floors. There should be some signs pointing you in the right direction. If you need, there is another opportunity for you to get more gorgeous 2×2 photos here.
• Once you’re in the right office, you’ll have to fill out ANOTHER form, take a picture, and submit all your documents. If you’re going it alone, the woman you’ll deal with speaks a bit of English, so it shouldn’t be too bad.
• After submitting all your forms and documents, you’ll need to pay the processing fees. That’ll require you to leave the way you came, and then go next door to the hall where they will take your payment. If you’re footing the 400RMB fee, be sure to keep your receipt, because most companies will reimburse you for this.
• Give one of your receipts to the woman who accepted your documents, and you’re done! Now the waiting game starts.
• If you need to travel somewhere while your passport is being processed (i.e. your company is sending you off to Beijing or someplace like that for training), you can request a paper called “Wai Guo Ren Qian Zheng Shen Qing Biao” (外国人签证申请表) that will allow you to pass security at train stations and airports and travel freely within the country.
In the autumn of 2016, news reports circulated that the government would be altering the visa process for foreigners, including changes to streamline the process, as well as changes to the classifications of foreign workers. Pilot programs were started in Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai, as well as in the provinces of Hebei, Anhui, Shandong, Guangdong, Sichuan, Yunnan and Ningxia. You’ll notice that neither Shaanxi nor Xi’an are on that list, so as of publication we’re still using the old visa process. If the pilot program is successful, our sources claim that the changes will be rolled out nationwide in April 2017 but, without government confirmation, it’s unclear whether that timeline is still accurate. We will publish an update if and when we get confirmation. Until then, here’s a list of some of the proposed changes and how they will affect the visa process, if implemented.
1. CHANGES IN DOCUMENTATION
• The “Alien Employment Permit” and “Foreign Expert Certificate,” will be replaced by one unified certificate, tentatively called the “Foreigner’s Work Permit.”
• Seven documents previously needed to get the process started, such as the Application Letter, Permit Stub, Bilingual Resume and Recommendation Letter, will no longer be necessary. Instead, you’ll be required to have an official copy of your highest diploma (Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, etc.), as well as an official “police certificate” (which we assume means a criminal background check).
2. CHANGES IN APPLICATION PROCESS
• Some of the application process will be conducted online.
3. CHANGES IN FOREIGN WORKER CLASSIFICATION
• The most radical change here is that there will now be three types of workers: Class A, Class B and Class C. You’ll also have a “foreigner score”, which is a point-scale that rates criteria such as your annual salary, your level of Chinese, your education background, your working experience, your age and more. In general, the higher your score, the more attractive you are as a worker.
• Class A workers are described as “high-end foreign talents.” Without more than that description, we assume this means persons holding advanced degrees with expert skillsets, such as engineers. Our research also implies that Class A workers will have an easier time navigating the visa process, due in part to expedited processing times (5 business days vs. the normal 10-business-day waiting period) and laxer restrictions on age and working experience.
• Class B workers are described as “professional foreign talents.” From what we can tell, this will be the category that a large portion of the foreign work force will fall into, such as teachers. They will face restrictions on age, education background (i.e. level of degree achieved) and work experience. This sounds remarkably similar to current requirements for working expats, so it shouldn’t change much except for that horrible feeling that if you’d have become a scientist like your parents wanted, you would be a carefree Class A laowai.
• Class C workers are described as “ordinary foreign workers.” Not many details are known about Class C workers, but one big detail is that this class of worker will be subject to a national quota. Included in this class are seasonal laborers, certain interns, fishermen and domestic workers traveling with Class A workers.
Now, like a lot of bureaucratic things, the process remains somewhat perplexing. What information that has been gathered for this article is current as of the time of publishing and is always subject to change. This article is for general educational purposes and you must independently confirm the details of this process to ensure that you won’t face any delays or rejections on your application. People going through the visa process are encouraged to check with their company’s HR department for the most up-to-date information.
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