Tighter visa restrictions or just more of the same?

25 Comments

According to Shanghai Daily, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee is currently discussing a draft law that will shorten the minimum stay for foreigners who come to China to 90 days, with the residence permits ranging in validity from six months to five years.

The draft law was designed with the aim of curbing the illegal entry, stay and employment of foreigners and stipulating harsher punishments for people who enter or exit the country illegally.

Since foreigners need to go through screening again when they want their residency permits renewed, the new rule will raise the frequency of checks, legislators said.

Foreigners need a work permit to be legally hired, and certain groups, such as those entering on an L or F visa – referring, respectively, to students staying for less than six months for cultural-exchange programs and tourists – are not allowed to be employed in China. Foreign students are also not allowed to work here.

I’m pretty sure the article has that “respectively” bit confused, as L visas would apply to tourists. While F visas would apply to people entering China for “China for a visit, an investigation, a lecture, to do business, scientific-technological and culture exchanges, short-term advanced studies or internship.” Students staying to study for more than 6 months require an X visa.

The report goes on to say that the number of “foreign visitors” (by definition, aren’t all visitors foreign?) has increased by 10 percent each year since 2000, and currently there are about 220,000 foreigners legally working in China, which represents about 37 percent of the legal foreign residents in the country.

The Ministry of Public Security said they seized more than 20,000 foreigners across the country last year who were illegally staying or working.

They were fined or deported depending on the seriousness of the offense.

Many of the illegal foreign workers were found in the language training, domestic housekeeping and showbiz sectors, the ministry said.

Illegal workers usually entered on a student or short-visit visa, it said.

The capital city of Beijing is currently cracking down on foreigners working illegally in China or staying in violation of visa rules.

Police say the number of illegal foreign workers in the country has been growing substantially over the past few years.

As has been said countless times since the whole “crack down” began about a month and a half ago, the tightening of the screws really only applies to foreigners working illegally in China, so if you’re not legal — get legal. If you’re working for a school that wont provide the proper visas, know that it’s on you, not them to assure your legality in the country, and any slap on the wrist they may receive for hiring you illegally will pale in comparison to the fines and possible deportation you face.

Looking at all the coverage this has received lately, I’m sure I’m not the first to see a connection between this “crack down” and the roll-out of the new law announced late last year requiring foreigners and their employers to pay social insurance. It’s not hard to see that if a bunch of foreigners are working “under the table”, that money isn’t going to be collected to the extent it could be.

Matthew Stinson recently wrote up “Six Points on Social Insurance for Foreigners“, a collection six questions/thoughts that Matthew had after experiencing the new policy coming into play at his job. If you work in China and will be paying the tax, it’s a definite must read — and even if the new law doesn’t apply to you, it’s a worth a look.

The big take-away from it is just how messy the new system is — at least as messy as it was, if not more so. The even bigger take away is what a money grab it is. Though for some it is surely going to allow easier access to the country’s social programs, assure a retirement cushion, etc.; but for the vast vast majority, it’s a joke. It’s no small sum of money (in around 10% of your salary, matched by 33% from your employer), and it’s money that most foreigners (and even more so, their employers) are essentially going to be pissing down the drain, as they’ll never use the social programs they’re intended to bestow upon the payer.

The law only applies to foreigners with a “Foreign Experts Certificate,” aka the “work visa” aka the Z Visa aka the Zed Visa. Here’s where the perverse incentives come into play. If a foreigner has a tourist visa, business visa, or marriage visa and is thus working illegally (Yang Rui knows who you are!), he/she won’t have to pay into the system. In fact, the requirement that employers must make contributions on our behalf means that, all other things being equal, an illegal employee is going to be considerably cheaper than a legal one, even if the foreigner in question has exactly the same contract salary as his/her legal counterpart. Moreover, employers during the next round of contract renewals may decide to pressure employees into changing their visas and working illegally so as to cut costs, and foreigners themselves may agree, figuring that the risks of being one of the san fei is worth the benefit of paying fewer taxes. At the same time, an employer wishing to stay aboveboard may decide to keep employees legal but refuse to offer raises during the next contract on the grounds that we are now receiving the “benefit” of social insurance. We haven’t even factored freelance workers into the equation – those working legally should fall under the aegis of the social insurance law, which begs the question of whether they or their employers are prepared to pay the tax.

For most China-watchers/-livers, this surely seems somewhat typical. Tighten visa regulations to force foreigners into a more “legal” status and clean up industries that have become rife with illegal workers, to insure more uniform application of a new law for collecting taxes for legal works, which will in turn incentivise employers to higher workers illegally. Face-palm.

But, there you have it. I’m curious to hear if anyone has any experience with either tightening of visa restrictions or the roll-out of the new social insurance law. If so, please drop a note in the comments below.

Talk on Tighter visa restrictions or just more of the same?


25 Comments
  1. Should be same same for us being here legally. There will be more risks for people working without a (real) contract and therefore without a working permit, but the companies risk a lot too in this case. I can’t imagine the government would just leave them alone.
    And I guess they might also refuse more working visa with the reason being “why do you need a foreigner for that job ?” which I heard is happening more and more.
    Cheers,
    — Woods

    • Profile photo of Marian

      “Why do you need a foreigner for that job?” and “Why do you need this foreigner for that job?” are standard required questions at the Labor Bureau whenever I’ve changed the employer on my Alien Employment Certificate.

      The most recent time I changed employers, I changed to a company where I’m the owner and legal representative. There were a number of questions that the official had problems getting out with a straight face and which required brainstorming from both myself and the official to come up with appropriate answers. “Because she’s the owner” was not acceptable.

      “Why do you need a foreigner for that job?” – Because the company is foreign owned and the stockholders feel that it would be in the best interests to have a foreigner as General Manager.

      “Why do you need this foreigner for that job?” – Because this foreigner’s many years experience living and working in China as a translator has shown that she has the necessary skills to manage a company of this size and scope.

  2. The annoying thing is that I have been here for EIGHT years now on a proper business Z visa (ie not teaching). Unlike nearly every other country, I still have to renew it each year. In nearly every other country, I could have been a citizen by now, let alone a permanent resident!

    When are the long-term, legal foreigners going to be rewarded? After all we are making a contribution to Chinese society and have ‘proved’ ourselves over the years.

    Why are we forced to go through the whole dog-and-pony show each and every year? Does China not want stable, contributing foreigners here?

    They can at least offer long term visas like most other civilized countries!

    • Profile photo of

      Couldn’t agree more. I doubt I’d be wanting citizenship (particularly with the lack of a dual-citizenship option) but permanent resident status/green card-type thing seems like a logical thing to have. But then, China’s long been concerned with the # of people she has.

  3. The timing of your post is impeccable, Ryan, for as we speak I am presently dealing with a major and tragically overlooked (by China watchers and the government alike) hiccup in these “tighter” visa restrictions, in that each province has an entirely different system set up to process foreign visas!

    Which means that if you are annually migrating from province to province for work (as I tend to do), you’ll have to deal with entirely different regulations which, more often than not, clash with the prior province’s regulations.

    For example, this year I am living and working in Shanghai, but I was forced to physically return to the province I lived in last year just to get that work visa canceled on-site (as opposed to a cancellation letter), then issue me a temporary L visa (after waiting 1 week), before sending me back to Shanghai to re-apply for my new work visa. Only by sheer luck did I avoid having to leave the country all together.

    I had a (somewhat heated) exchange with one of the English-speaking visa officers in Shanghai, whereby I pleaded ignorance of these confusing, ever-changing and oft-conflicting provincial rules and insisted that the local PSB or government should do a better job of keeping foreigners informed, to which he brilliantly responded that “it is not the responsibility of the government to keep foreigners updated on the latest visa rules; I should ask a Chinese friend to help me.”

    • If it’s any consolation, Chinese citizens need to go through this kind of bull too when they want to change their hukou or obtain their birth certificate, etc. It’s a structural problem with the Chinese bureaucratic system that penalizes foreigners and Chinese citizens alike.

  4. Profile photo of Marian

    I have not been employed on a Z-visa since 2003.

    The visa is your entry into the country. Many legitimate foreign employees have Z-visas. I suspect that most legitimate foreign employees do NOT have Z-visas.

    After arriving in China your Z-visa (or your X-visa if you are coming to study) is converted into a Residence Permit. This takes up another whole page in your passport and it looks almost exactly like a visa BUT IT IS NOT A VISA.

    My current Residence Permit says “Purpose of Residence – Employment” with 就业 written for employment. The people I know who are Foreign Experts have “Purpose of Residence – Employment” with 职业 written for employment.

    I am not a Foreign Expert. I do not have a Foreign Experts’ Certificate. I have an Alien Employment Certificate which I received from the Labor Bureau. It has a different set of procedures and a different set of benefits than an Experts’ Certificate but it’s safe to say that it’s basically the same thing issued by different departments. If you want to get the Residence Permit that most people incorrectly refer to as a visa, you need to have one or the other.

    When I went to renew my Alien Employment Certificate ahead of getting my most recent Residence Permit last year there was something on the desk about the Social Insurance Law but the nice lady behind the counter didn’t actually know anything about it yet, who it affected, or how. Maybe she’ll know this year. Maybe not.

    Thing is, in your quote above Matthew Stinson is making the same mistake a lot of people make when they call a Residence Permit a Visa.
    I definitely do NOT have a visa.
    I have a Residence Permit.

    Furthermore, the “Foreign Experts Certificate” is NOT the same as the Z-Visa nor is it the same as the Residence Permit. The Foreign Experts’ Certificate like the Alien Employment Certificate is still a separate booklet which your employer may or may not give you to hold onto.

    If this law only applies to Experts then it does not apply to me. I’m not an Expert. I’ve been told I ought to have an Experts’ Certificate instead of my lesser Alien Employment Certificate but it’s easier just renewing the certificate I’ve got than it is to cancel and apply anew.

    Given the placard at the Labor Bureau last year, I suspect that the intention of the law will be that people with my kind of lesser certificate also get taxed but I just don’t know. Not only that, the relevant officials couldn’t give me any kind of answer when I asked them because they didn’t know yet. And when the Haikou Foreign Affairs Office sent an email around to the select few whose email addresses they haven’t managed to lose, it was in bad English and had no pertinent information about the law.

  5. FYI:

    >(by definition, aren’t all visitors foreign?)

    How about a Chinese emigrates to Canada, and then comes back to visit family members? That would be a visitor (that requires a visa!) but not foreign, and it would make sense to count these separately, e.g. to gauge actual tourism more accurately

    • I do not really understand your example. By definition, if they require a visa, they are foreigner (ok, without going into details of problems like Taiwan)

    • You can migrate to another country without obtaining citizenship there. I assume that in your example a Chinese citizen migrated to Canada and eventually obtained Canadian citizenship (thereby, at least theoretically, giving up their Chinese citizenship).

      In effect then, that person would be a Canadian citizen and hence a foreigner according to Chinese law. A separate visa may not be necessary as one needs to fill out the purpose of visit on Chinese visa applications, e.g. family visit, travel or business, and thus it should be possible to obtain relatively reliable statistics on international tourist numbers.

  6. Here in Dalian, the sanfei crackdown is hardcore. Recently, more than a dozen people were fined and/or deported. I will share two stories,

    In one case, this dude did not want to share a taxi with other people. He got into a fistfight with the driver because of it. When the police came, they found out he was working at a uni on an F visa. However the Uni was not the company that sponsored his visa. He was given 10 days to get out, fined, and nursed a bruised face. Opps!

    The other had a more serious problem. She was teaching at a small school, not the one who sponsored her Z visa. Opps! The police investigated and caught her. When they examined her passport, they said her visa was a fake! She too was fined and given 10 days to get out. Now she is blacklisted. The school who issued the fake visa is now under investigation.

    Hardcore huh?

  7. Ryan,

    The draft Exit-Entry Law that you mention above was enacted by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on Saturday (June 30). You mention the minimum stay for workers may be reduced to 90 days. Here’s what Clause 30 says:

    第三十条 外国人所持签证注明入境后需要办理居留证件的,应当自入境之日起三十日内,向拟居留地县级以上地方人民政府公安机关出入境管理机构申请办理外国人居留证件。

    Clause 30. Foreigners’ work-related residence certificates are valid for a minimum of 90 days and a maximum of five years; Non-work-related residence certificates are valid for a minimum of 180 days and a maximum of five years.

    So, a person admitted to work MAY be admitted for as few as 90 days or as long as five years. My guess is that the PSB will likely look at the employment contract, among other documents, to determine what the length of stay should be.

    Your observation that the PSB’s crackdown is related to the new social insurance law seems astute. The crackdown could also be seen as related to the Exit-Entry law. In fact, during this law’s second reading the NPC received government reports that 三非”外国人管理难度较大 (roughly, “fighting against foreigners’ 3 illegals is fairly difficult”). http://www.npc.gov.cn/huiyi/cwh/1126/2012-04/26/content_1719531.htm. That report could have been part of the stimulus for the viral videos of the foreigners behaving badly and the subsequent crackdown.

    More generally, the social insurance law, the exit-entry law, and the crackdown are all related to the fact that China is experiencing a new trend of economic immigration (at the same time that emigration continues). The driving forces behind the trend are the nation’s economic growth and changing demography. As China modernizes and urbanizes, smaller families are preferred, labor force growth is slowing, and the elderly population is increasing. This results in wage pressure and economic immigration.

    A few things to look out for related to the new Exit-Entry law:

    * The Ministry of Public Security says it’s time for China to build special detention facilities for foreigners who residing or working illegally.

    * The law encourages Chinese citizens to “report clues” re foreigners illegally living or working in China.

    * Foreigners seeking residence certificates to provide fingerprints and “other biometric data” to PSB.

    * China’s Public Security Bureau may restrict foreigners residences to specified locations.

    My (very) preliminary analysis of the new Exit-Entry Law is here: http://lawandborder.com/?p=1381.

    Regards,
    Gary Chodorow

  8. Pingback: All you need to know about China’s new Exit-Entry Law ~ Lost Laowai China Blog

  9. As a long term worker in China, I say, I fully support this “Crackdown”. The many illegal workers and scumbag foreigners make it more difficult for the legal workers on a daily basis.
    A legal work permit is required in virtually every country on the planet. This is not news.
    Our own countries have far more stringent policies on foreigners than China (and penalties).
    However, I do have to say that drunken scumbag foreigners are the worst. Sadly many are legal but regularly bring shame to the expat communities. Perhaps they are the ones that should be targeted.
    The bottom line is: This is China, worts and all. If you don’t like it then you should go home.

  10. Remember where we are my dear little expats. We can ask, we can complain, we can even bitch about what the Chinese or Chinese gov. does or should do, but we should NEVER demand that they have to change this or that in our favor. We are guests, and poking our index finger up in the air in protest is just not right. Demanding that they should change or relax their immigration policies to accommodate our whims and desires is like accepting (which I definitely don’t) the Mexicans and Guatemalans to wave their countrie’s flags on my beloved streets of Los Angeles. Lets take it easy, I do also want PRC to give me a 6 months visitor visa for 20 USD, and reorganize their entire nation PSB communication system so those 2 teachers from Yangshuo don’t have to go back alllll the way to Guangzhou to properly get a transfer, and make sure that all of us are immediately informed of any changes in their policies while we comfortably sip the last drop of our cold suds in the comfort of the Shanghai Brewery. But, not butt, but, remember the 99 percent of us (including the GMs and CITIs) were not forced nor invited by the PRC or the common Chinese for that matter. We are here because we wanted to, needed to, or your ex-boyfriend who’s hooked up with a Chinese girl after words promised you a happier life. In any case, you always have back home, and if you are so fricking frustrated with the spitting, the overcrowded metros and the inability of the Chinese to make you feel at home, then, you know what to do. Boy, I don’t usually drink Bud in the US but this one here doesn’t taste too bad. Cheers!

    • So true. We are guests in this country….. Some of us came to make a difference and some of us came for other reasons….. But whatever the reason keeping in mind that we are guests can keep one grounded…. Just my opinion….
      Cheers to those who are making a difference

  11. Here’s the problem: in Western Countries, it takes just a week or so, maybe a month, to get incorporated. In China it takes months (almost a year!) to get ‘lega’ and start issuing work Visas to your well-intentioned employees. What do companies do in the meantime? You guessed it: F Visas and L Visas.

    This is a problem that the Chinese govt themselves created. And yea, as the poster said, this is a huge money grab— something you can also get in the good ol US of A ;).

  12. At the Consulate of China in Bangkok they are now significantly cracking down tourist visas: it seems that multiple visa are no longer granted, while they were until few months ago. They are now granting single entry tourist Visa up to 10 days, unless there is an evident clear proof of holiday in China. This is a real mess since the Thais are used to travel to China for business a lot, since business connections betweek the two countries are huge… Looks like a royal mess.

  13. The ;If you don’t like it; go home.’ Much easier said than done. I have lived here and only here since 1995. Very easy then; go to Hong Kong and get a 6 month ‘TypeF’ multi. visa with no duration of stay. No problem. Now it is a major problem.
    Had a small business with a legit “Foreign Investment License’ which was suppose to allow me a residence permit. Took copies of all 14 licenses to HK to China Consulate and was laughed at. Was working in a specialized area and getting employers to get work and resident permits was easy; until 2 years ago when I turned 62 and deemed too old to work here. Because of the crackdowns no one is willing to hire me even under the table.
    I was married to a Chinese and still no residence permit. She and I split up. She got married and had a little boy. Long story short; she got divorced and she and the boy live with me’ I am the only ‘Daddy’ he will ever have; and that is good.
    Now, when I decided to take care of her and the boy, I went to the local PSB and asked how I would be able to get off this visa problem of having to leave every 30 days. 1. I was told to get married; no thank you – been there and done that. 2. Was told to invest in property. OK, I can do that and did. Only problem was it was totally wrong information. Was laughed at again when I tried to apply for residence.
    Now, all I can get is tourist visa and leave every 30 days. In 2 days I’m going to HK for new visa and I am not sure I’ll even get back here at all. My understanding with the new rules that I have to have a valid drivers license to get a visa. Have only been back to US 3 times since 1999; my license expired 10 years ago.
    Having made China my home when it was easy to be here; that was great. Not so great to leave if you have to leave empty handed. Sure, I can sell my home ( for half what I have in it) and go; but until someone can tell me how to get my money out; i’m stuck here.
    Thanks for listening.

  14. That is a very sad tale. One thing is clear from the story. You have been working illegally since 1995 and are now complaining because you can’t continue to rort the the system. Why would you go to HK? The local Entry/Exit office will tell you exactly what you need to satisfy that office….give them what they want, come back one week later with 800rmb and life is dandy for one more year. Maybe you’ll have problems because it is obvious from your visa record that you are a long term illegal worker.
    Sorry to sound like an ass but it isn’t difficult to follow the rules and be legal.

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