China Streamlines Rules For Expat Workers

On Nov. 1, China launched a limited release of its unified work authorization application policy. The change is touted as a major overhaul of the previously regionally-based immigration program that will hopefully streamline the Chinese work permit application process.

Now moving to a federal model administered by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA), the two current permit categories — the foreign work permit and the foreign expert certificate — will form into one program available to three occupation groups.

“The integration of the two different work permits is designed to remove impediments, such as inconsistent administration, policies and inefficient communication related to different and often complicated issues related to the jobs, identities and social status of foreigners,” says Zhang Jianguo, head of SAFEA.

“It will help reduce repetitious checks and approvals, avoid administrative loopholes and improve efficiency by building a more active, open and efficient personnel introduction system.” he added.

Previously, securing work authorization in China was difficult in part due to the varying requirements based on the work assignment region. Employers found it difficult to plan around the many nuances with the system. It also resulted in long processing times and, likely, delayed business plans.

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However, the new single work permit system is built to correct those deficiencies.

Significant changes expected:

  • Applications may be submitted online, which should help decrease processing times.
  • SAFEA assigns a permanent national code number that links to the applicant’s information for easier identification.
  • The work permit is split into three groups: A is for high-end personnel, B is for professional personnel, and C is for temporary and seasonal personnel in service and non-technical fields.
  • Applicants are evaluated on a points system, based on age, region of workplace, education, salary, work experience and other requirements.

In this initial phase, the program is available in regions that employ the most expats, such as: Beijing, Anhui, Hebei, Tianjin, the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Sichuan and Guangdong. The program is set to be released nationwide in April 2017.

Sarah Maxwell is the head of global immigration at Envoy, which offers the only immigration management platform that makes it seamless for companies to hire and manage a global workforce. She has vast experience handling all aspects of corporate and employment-based immigration law. Maxwell most recently served as an associate in the Business Immigration group of Vedder Price, P.C. She has significant experience developing and executing global immigration policy for Fortune 500 companies spanning various industries, including devising process and strategy across every facet of nonimmigrant and immigrant matters and the permanent residency process. She focused on counseling multinational corporations on the movement of personnel across the globe and facilitated the assignment of expatriates to the EMEA and APAC regions, as well as the Americas. She also provided training, functional direction and insight to recruiters and hiring managers to better equip them to identify and proceed with candidates with immigration needs.

Previously, she worked at Baker & McKenzie LLP as an associate and member of the firm’s Global Immigration and Mobility practice. There, she handled numerous global executive transfers, including obtaining work and residence authorization in the United States and abroad. She has also advised employers on the development and implementation of corporate immigration compliance programs and anti-discrimination policies under state and federal law. Maxwell received a juris doctor degree from Vanderbilt University Law School and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee. Please visit or email for more information.


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