6 Important China Visa Questions Answered

By Ned Kelly, April 9, 2021

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The responsibility of being on the correct visa to live and work in China ultimately falls on your own shoulders. However, it can be complicated. We spoke with the UK Government in China about a crackdown on foreigners working illegally in the country a couple of years ago – you can read that here. We have now reached out to them again with some frequently asked questions that we receive. While their answers are sometimes tailored towards British people, most of the advice is general – we hope it is of use to as many of you as possible.

Who is responsible for ensuring that I have the correct visa and work permit?
You need to take responsibility for ensuring you have the correct visa and work permit. Information on the current visa requirements for China can be found here. Larger cities also have local government hotlines that you can call and make a general inquiry. You do not need to give your personal details.

While employers are urged by the Public Security Bureau to ensure foreign employees understand work permit conditions, it remains the mutual responsibility of the work permit holder and the employer to comply with the conditions of their visa/work permit.

What are the most common immigration offenses committed by UK nationals?
The most common immigration offenses are:

Overstaying – Where someone remains in China after their visa has expired or beyond the length of stay permitted on their visa.

Working illegally – The only visa that is issued to foreign nationals who intend to work in China is a ‘Z’ visa. After entering China, foreign nationals must apply for residence permit within 30 days, with an associated correct work permit. Foreign nationals are considered as working illegally if, without permission of the Chinese authorities, they work outside of the category given on their work permit.

Incorrect/invalid work permits – The work permit covers a particular district/area and sometimes a physical location such as a specific school. The work permit will be valid only within the region specified by the permit-issuing authority. Before you work in another location you/your employer must seek permission, e.g. if you are employed in Shanghai and wish to work in Hangzhou, you/your employer must report to the relevant exit/entry administration authorities, even if you are with the same employer. If you intend to change employer once you’re in China, you must check with the Chinese authorities whether a new visa and work permit is required and get the correct permissions before doing so.

If you are employed through an agency, you should ensure that the work permit shows your actual employer and not the agency.

What are the penalties for overstaying a visa or working illegally?
The penalties for overstaying, or working illegally are determined by the authorities and can vary depending on the seriousness of the immigration offense. The penalty is usually determined by individual circumstances, length of breach, history of employer as well as other factors specific to the case.

Various Chinese authorities have input into the decision, such as the case handling authority of the Exit/Entry Division of Public Security Bureau. Administration detention is often given. You do not go through a court process but can be sentenced to detention, often between 5 and 15 days and a fine of RMB500 per day. Most cases also include deportation when the detention ends.

In cases where the overstay is lengthy, foreign nationals could face detentions of 30 days, whilst the Public Security Bureau investigates further to consider if the person has committed other offenses and whether criminal charges should be brought. 

If criminal charges are brought, it is not uncommon for cases to take between six and 12 months to come before a court. This time is likely to be served in a detention center. If you are detained for a longer period, consular staff will visit you on a regular basis (in most cases around once every 4-6 weeks).

Living conditions in detention centers and prisons are basic and may vary between cities and provinces. In detention centers, one cell may hold over 30 inmates. It is common for detainees to only have a basic sleeping set and to sleep on the floor.

READ MORE: 5 Important Questions About Life in China Answered

What can the British Embassy/Consulate do to help if I am accused of committing an immigration offense?
If you are accused of committing an immigration offense and detained, the police will inform the Embassy/Consulate officially in writing of your detention. It is usually a few days before the notification is received, and we aim to contact you as soon as possible after we have been informed.

To arrange a call or visit, we have to request permission from the Public Security Department/Bureau. It can then take a few days to gain access. Current restrictions, as a result of Covid-19, mean that face-to-face visits might not be possible. In such cases, we will arrange to speak with you by VTC or telephone.

At the visit, we are there to support you and take an interest in your welfare. If you wish, we can consider taking up any complaints that you have about your treatment with the authorities and make sure that any medical problems you may have are brought to their attention.

If you wish, we can let your family and friends know your situation. We can also help you understand the benefits of contacting family. We can then pass on messages to and from family/friends.

We can offer you basic information about the legal system and prison conditions in China. We cannot give legal advice but can provide you with a list of English-speaking lawyers in China. We are not able to pay your legal or interpretation costs.

We may also put you in touch with Prisoners Abroad, a UK charity that supports British citizens detained overseas and their families. Although normally they are unable to assist those who are in short-term detention.

We cannot get you out of detention, pay fines, arrange bail or interfere with local judicial procedures.

More information about what we can and cannot do can be found on GOV.UK.

I am in China on a spousal visa – can I work?
We understand that working is prohibited on a spousal visa. However, if you find suitable employment you may qualify for a ‘Z’ visa and a work permit. It is important that you contact your local exit/entry bureau for clarification and organize the correct visa and work permit to ensure you are not committing an immigration offense.

We’d like a parent/family member to come and live with us in China is that possible?
We understand that the Chinese authorities offer four categories of visa for family members (Q1, Q2, S1 and S2). However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic visa services may not currently be available. Details of the visa services that China currently offers in the UK can be found here.

READ MORE: 5 More Questions Answered by the UK Government in China


Got a question you would like answered? Email info@thatsmags.com and we'll do our best to get it answered for you.

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