Visas and Work Permits 6 min

Work permits and visas in China: an employer’s guide

Written by Sally Flaxman
Sally Flaxman

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China has become a global hub for innovation and advanced industrialization, attracting more skilled workers from emerging and developed economies. To keep up, China has stepped up immigration efforts to incentivize best-in-market workers to come, work, and live in China. 

International employers who wish to hire and pay workers in China should keep a few key considerations in mind. For instance, the visa or work permit application process is decided on a province-by-province basis. China is shifting to a platform economy (app-based, like rideshares) where gig work, freelancing, contracting, and similar forms of work are hardly protected by law.

Compliance is something every employer should consider. Failing to comply with national or provincial labor laws and regulations can lead to hefty fines, legal issues, and in extreme cases, civil or criminal offenses. Many companies find it easy and simple to hire international employees by working with an employer of record (EOR). An EOR like Remote can handle legal compliance and all the processes involved in global hiring, including onboarding, benefits, taxes, and payroll.

This definitive guide will be your go-to reference for all you need to know about visa requirements and work permits in China. But before you get started, here are a few words on why correct right-to-work checks and entitlements in China are important. 

The importance of immigration compliance in China

The correct right-to-work checks are requirements or criteria — set by the government or an organization — to ensure remote work is performed according to a set of standards. There are no specific laws or regulations governing how remote work should operate in China, so employers may risk facing regulatory penalties and fines or even civil or criminal offenses. 

Choosing to go around the current gig economy situation in China by, for example, working on a tourist visa is not an option. If anything, working in China on a tourist visa is illegal, even when digital nomads and other remote workers are common. 

There are many gray areas in China's labor laws, particularly in independent contracting and remote work, which is why the work visa and permit application process can be tricky. Always check local employment laws and regulations before hiring and paying remote workers or contractors in China and beyond.

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Which workers need a right-to-work check in China?

China has specific visa categories for individuals wishing to work in China.

Two visa categories are generally issued for work purposes:

Category R, which is for high-skilled professionals whose skills are urgently needed in China.

Category Z, which is a general visa category for any eligible applicant who wants to work in China

Applying to work in China can also be classified according to an applicant's status as follows:

  • Permanent resident. This class of job applicants is free to work in China without any restrictions unless otherwise noted in one or more provinces or cities. 

  • Temporary residents. This class of applicants may fall under any of China's many visa categories (e.g., C, F, and M) but may still need to apply for a Category R or Z visa to work in China. 

  • Work permit holders. These are largely Category Z visa holders who may wish to extend their stay in China and may do so after getting the necessary approvals and employment contract renewal.

A residence permit is almost always required before foreign applicants can apply for a work visa. However, residence permits in China are province or city-specific, which could render one province's permit invalid in another. To give you a sense of how residence permits work in China, here is a list of documents required for a "stay permit" (long residence) in Shanghai.

Do noncitizens need a work visa or work permit in China?

Yes.

Over recent years, China has introduced more restrictions to ensure foreigners live and work legally in China. Unlike visa arrangements in the European Union, for example, China is buckling down to squash backdoor channels for hiring foreigners without getting proper visas (most commonly Category Z) and work permits. 

What are the eligibility requirements for a work visa in China?

As noted, work visas in China fall broadly into two main categories: Category R and Category Z. The eligibility requirements for each are as follows:

Category R: 

  • Foreigners of or above 18 years old

  • Foreigners working in industries needed in China

  • Category A visa holders who hold additional visas or valid residence permits 

Category Z:

  •  Depends on employer, profession, province, and experience.

What are the long-stay visa types in China?

Generally, the Category D visa is China's premier long-stay visa is for individuals who wish to live permanently in China. The Ministry of Public Security in China is indispensable in deciding to grant a foreigner permanent residency or for work purposes. Typically, an official application form is required from the ministry.  

How do you get a work visa for China?

A work permit or visa in China is issued on a province-by-province basis. For example, foreigners who want to work in Beijing are subject to general requirements (for all who apply to work in China) but may need to meet additional requirements specific to Beijing only.

What is the process for employee work visa sponsorship in China?

There is no nationwide employee work visa sponsorship program in China. Instead, China follows what is akin to an invitation-only process to attract high-skilled foreign workers in specific industries under Category R visas. Chinese employers may also invite employees under a Category Z visa.

Managing "sponsorship" in China is daunting enough to deter many employers and workers from the employment process altogether. 

As an employer, you need to focus on your growth, which only a world-class workforce can achieve. But to attract best-in-market candidates, you must always comply with local labor and tax laws. This egg-and-chicken situation is all too common in China. Unless you have strong legal and financial resources and enough business (and sometimes political) clout, you're simply left behind. 

Luckily, you can work with an employer of record to make the hiring process and relocation a breeze. Learn more about how you can use an EOR in China to hire compliantly by reading our insightful article below.

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How to use an Employer of Record in China

Learn how to use an EOR in China and find out how an employer of record platform like Remote can make it easy to hire globally with full compliance.

What are the visa requirements for digital nomads in China?

China does not have (so far) a digital nomad visa service or program per se. Instead, similar to remote workers, digital nomads can apply for a Category R or Z visa and follow all the required steps mentioned above to get a valid work permit in China.

Trying to work as a tourist in China is illegal, as previously noted. China is strict about enforcement, and if caught, you're at risk of fines or a ban on your business activities, and team members are at risk of deportation or imprisonment. 

How Remote makes compliance in China so much easier

China’s growth as a platform economy makes it an attractive hub for remote employees as well as digital nomads. However, employers face challenges while hiring in the country. From having to navigate unfamiliar labor practices to keeping up with local regulations — hiring abroad can be a tricky process.

With Remote’s EOR, you’ll get all the advice and guidance you need to hire and pay your remote workforce in China compliantly. From understanding international taxation and permanent establishment risk to staying in compliance with immigration and local labor laws, partnering with Remote can make it easy for you to hire abroad.

Download Remote’s Relocation Guide to learn more about how you can manage the employee relocation process. Or contact our Mobility team for guidance and advice on local immigration and employment laws.

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