The ATLAS Journal

Gary Chodorow on China Visa Regulations – Part One: Internships and Early Career Professionals

Gary Chodorow is an immigration lawyer representing businesses, investors, families, and others in U.S. and China visa, permanent residence, and citizenship matters. He is the author of Law and Border, a blog devoted to U.S. and China Visa Law.

His blog has provided fantastic coverage of the new Exit-Entry Administration Law and Gary kindly made time for an interview where we discussed the new regulations from the foreign young professional’s perspective.  This is Part One of our conversation.   

ABE: Can you give me a little more background on the new regulations as they relate to recent graduates coming over to work?

GARY: For a young person who wants to work in China, there’s one clear route: come to China as a student. The reason I say that is that long-term students who are here for a period of studies of over 180 days may be authorized to do an internship or part-time work in China. It’s going to be a 2-step process for those long-term students. Step one is that they get the approval of their school. Step two is that they get the approval of their Local Public Security Bureau Exit-Entry Administration.

Another way is to apply for a Z visa through the employment license route. If you’re going to be applying for the Z visa, there are some basic rules that you need to know about. These rules are set at the national level and they may be updated shortly but probably not too much. The basic requirements are: you have to be at least age 18, in good health, and have “the professional skills and job experience required” for the intended employment which is a kind of squishy requirement decided by the Local Labor Bureau.

Many cities like Beijing and Shanghai add on to that national level requirement their own local requirement that, generally, you must have a bachelor’s degree or higher and two or more years of experience related to the work. So that’s a key point: new grads looking for work in China are often going to run up against this requirement that you have a bachelor’s degree or higher and two or more years of experience related to the work.

Just to finish up those basic requirements for the Z visa, you have to have no criminal record. You have to have a clearly defined employer – there is no freelancing visa, for example.

One strategy to consider if you don’t have two years of postgraduate work experience is to apply in a city that does not have that requirement. Look at second and third tier cities that don’t have those levels of requirements.

So when people talk about this 2-year requirement making it all but impossible for recent grads to work in China, they really are just using China as a short-hand for Beijing and Shanghai.

Yeah, absolutely. The 2-year work experience rule is one set by various cities, not by the Ministry of Labor on a national basis.

I want to give another tip, which is that some people applying for Z visas don’t need an employment license and the most obvious exception is for chief representatives and other representatives of Representative Offices of Foreign Enterprises in China i.e., rep offices. So if you’re going to be the representative of an established rep office, you will not be required to get an employment license and instead you get a representative certificate and that will not require the two years of experience. In some situations, investors in or legal representatives of companies are similarly exempt from the experience requirement. So that’s another strategy.

The third strategy for getting the Z visa is, instead of going the employment license route, to apply for a foreign expert permit. Under the existing rules for that, most people who want to be foreign experts are going to have to have a bachelor’s degree or higher and five years’ work experience. Most foreign experts have the higher work experience requirement but some do not.

For example, language teachers have to have a bachelor’s degree and either two years of work experience or a certificate of a language teacher qualification. So that’s the key thing. If you’ve got the TESOL certificate, teaching English for speakers of second language or other acceptable certificates then you could become a foreign expert in China to teach English or you could do this I think for other languages without two years of work experience.

Could you talk also about the possibilities for internships in China for people who are not currently students in China.  That’s definitely a hot issue as well.

In the past, people who wanted to come to China for an internship would apply for an F visa. That was under the prior law. That was the business visa. And the rules specifically stated that the visas were available for people to come to China for internships lasting less than six months. Under the new law, the F visa is divided up into two kind of separate visas. One is the M visa for people coming for business or commercial activities. And the other is still called the F visa but it’s for exchanges, visits, inspections, et cetera. The key thing here is that there is no specific provision for people to come to China for internships in either of the new business related visas, the F or the M. There’s some chatter that X2 (short-term study visas) will allow for internships, but we need to wait for guidance from the government.

Why do you think they left that out? That seems like a pretty significant thing to just not put language in on.

That’s a great question. To answer, I would have to speculate but if we look at the overall thrust of the new law, one of its main goals is to regularize migration and more specifically, to reduce the level of unauthorized employment. It does that for example by raising the penalties for employees and employers for engaging in unauthorized employment.

In the past, many people would come to China with an F visa and work here. Some of them would do it under the guise of doing an “internship” but it was actually just regular work. So my pure speculation about why that was taken out – since the government has not said why it was – is that the goal was to reduce unauthorized employment.

Now, the new rules for the F, M, and X2 visas, they don’t say you cannot do an internship, they just don’t say like the old rules that you can. And so, what we may see over time is some kind of interpretation of these new categories that allows for internships.

One thing that’s likely is that even if internships are going to be possible under the new rules, paid internships will not be possible. And that’s because the law clearly states that to be employed – and being paid is very key indicator of being employed – you need a work permit in China. Very likely, we’ll have to wait and see for government interpretations on the internship issue. For example, will it be possible for a work unit hosting an intern to pay travel or living expenses?

I actually had always wondered what the cutoff was between a paid internship and a short-term job.

You’re wondering about something that was never stated in the rules. There was never in the past that clear cutoff between what was an internship and what was employment. But now, one thing that we do have pretty clearly in the law is that to “work” you need a residence permit.

We also have clear guidance that what qualifies as work isn’t going to depend just on whether there is an employment contract, but instead on the totality of the facts. If it looks like work and smells like work, it is work.


Thanks for reading and keep an eye out for Part 2 this week.  Any questions for Gary, or to share an experience navigating the new regulations, leave a comment!