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I. Introduction

Although China is not a country that has traditionally attracted large numbers of immigrants, the number of foreigners seeking employment in the country has been rapidly increasing over recent decades.  In 2000, there were about 74,000 foreigners employed in China.  By the end of 2011, the number of foreigners employed in China had reached 220,000, which accounted for 37% of the total number of foreigners residing in the country.[1] 

As a country with a 1.34 billion population and abundant labor resources, China has adopted laws and regulations strictly prohibiting the illegal employment of aliens.  The immigration law system focuses on attracting high-level, talented researchers and skilled workers especially needed by the country, with restrictive controls over low-skilled workers’ access to the labor market.  There are no specific programs available to admit low-skilled foreign workers.

A.  Legislative Framework

China does not have a single immigration act or foreigners’ act.  The primarily applicable legislation on entry into the country is the Law on the Administration of Exit and Entry of Aliens and its implementing rules.  On June 30, 2012, the Law on Administration of Exit and Entry (Exit and Entry Law) was passed.  The new Law will replace the Law on the Administration of Exit and Entry of Aliens upon taking effect on July 1, 2013.[2] 

The new Exit and Entry Law clearly requires aliens to obtain both a work permit and a residence permit in order to work in China, and prohibits Chinese employers from hiring any aliens without the permits.  Detailed rules controlling the employment of aliens in China are to be formulated by the State Council, according to the Exit and Entry Law.[3]  The current rules regulating the employment of aliens are primarily provided in the Provisions on the Administration of Employment of Foreigners (Provisions), jointly issued by several departments under the State Council in 1996.[4]

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II.  Eligibility for Admission

The Provisions generally require an alien worker to be over age eighteen and in good health, have necessary professional skills and corresponding work experiences required by the job he or she intends to take, not have a criminal record, and have found an employer.[5]

In order to enter China and be eligible to work, an alien must obtain a work visa, an employment permit, and a residence permit.[6]  First, the alien worker must visit the Chinese embassy or consulate where he or she resides to apply for a Z visa, the work visa, to enter China.[7]  Within fifteen days after the alien enters China, the employer must apply for an employment permit for the alien.[8]  After obtaining the employment permit and within thirty days after entering China, the alien must apply for a residence permit with the public security organs.  The term of stay is specified in the residence permit, which may be determined according to the term of the employment permit.[9]  According to the Exit and Entry Law, the duration of such a residence permit may vary from ninety days to five years.[10] 

Alien workers employed in China without a proper employment permit or residence permit will be deemed illegal, which is subject to a fine of 5,000 yuan (about US$800) to 20,000 yuan.[11]  Where the public security organs deem the circumstances to be serious, the alien may also be detained for five to fifteen days.[12]  Illegally employing aliens is subject to a fine of 10,000 yuan for each illegally employed alien, with a maximum of 100,000 yuan, and any illegal gains are confiscated.[13]

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III.  Recruitment and Sponsorship

According to the Provisions, employers intending to employ an alien must first apply to the government authorities for approval to hire that alien, and obtain an alien employment license.[14]  The alien worker must present the license when applying for a work visa to enter China.[15]  The employer may then conclude a labor contract with the alien after being approved and obtaining the alien employment license.[16] 

The Provisions do not require alien workers to be recruited by foreign labor recruiters.

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IV.  Visa Conditions

Aliens must work for the employer indicated on the employment permit.[17]  The labor contract may not exceed five years, which is renewable, and the employment permit needs to be renewed accordingly.[18] 

According to the Provisions, an employment permit is valid only when used in the geographic area specified in that permit.[19]  The alien may switch employers within the same geographic area, but must engage in the original occupation and be approved by the original authority issuing the permit; the permit can be altered in such situations.[20]  Where an alien seeks employment outside the area specified by the permit, or within the area but for a different employer and in a different occupation, he must apply for a new employment permit.[21]

China does not have a quota or cap system for immigration purposes.  Rules on permanent status were first introduced into Chinese law in 2004, when the Measures for Administration of Examination and Approval of Foreigners’ Permanent Residence in China were issued.[22]  The Measures list the categories of individuals who may apply for permanent residency, which, outside those who may obtain residency through family connections, include

  • investors who have made direct investments in China with stable operations and good tax payment records for three successive years;
  • corporate executives, professors, and researchers who have held a post in China for at least four consecutive years, with a minimum period of physical presence in China of three cumulative years within the four years and with good tax payment records; and
  • foreigners having made great and outstanding contributions to China and those being specially needed by the country.[23]

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V.  Admission Status of Family Members

Family members accompanying work visa holders may also enter China with a Z visa.[24]  The accompanying family members may not work in China unless they adjust their status and obtain their own employment permits and residence permits.[25]

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Prepared by Laney Zhang
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
Februrary 2013



[1] Yang Huanning, Guowuyuan Guanyu Waiguoren Ruchujing ji Juliu, Jiuye Guanli Gongzuo Qingkuang de Baogao [Report of the State Council on the Administration of Entry-Exit, Residence, and Employment of Foreigners], National People’s Congress (Apr. 25, 2012), http://www.npc.gov.cn/wxzl/gongbao/2012-08/21/content_1736409.htm.

[2] Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Chujing Rujing Guanli Fa [The Exit and Entry Administration Law of the People’s Republic of China] (promulgated by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress), http://www.gov.cn/flfg/2012-06/30/content_2174944.htm.

[3] Id. art. 41.

[4] Waiguo Ren Zai Zhongguo Jiuye Guanli Guiding [Provisions on the Administration of Employment of Foreigners in China] (issued by the Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation on Jan. 22, 1996, amended Nov. 12, 2010) (hereinafter, Provisions), http://fgk.chinalaw.gov.cn/article/bmgz/201011/20101100336545.shtml.

[5] Id. art. 7.

[6] Id. art. 8.

[7] Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Waiguoren Rujing Chujing Guanli Fa Shishi Xize [Implementation Measures of the Exit and Entry Administration Law of the People’s Republic of China] (approved by the State Council on Dec. 3, 1986, last amended Apr. 24, 2010), art. 4, http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2010-04/27/content_1593708.htm.

[8] Id. art. 16.

[9] Id. art. 17.

[10] Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Chujing Rujing Guanli Fa [The Exit and Entry Administration Law of the People’s Republic of China] (promulgated by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress), art. 30, http://www.gov.cn/flfg/2012-06/30/content_2174944.htm.

[11] Id. arts. 43 & 80.

[12] Id. art. 80.

[13] Id.

[14] Id. art. 5.

[15] Id. art. 15.

[16] Id. art. 5.

[17] Provisions, supra note 4, art. 24.

[18] Id. arts. 18 & 19.

[19] Id. art. 16.

[20] Id. art. 24.

[21] Id.

[22] Waiguoren Zai Zhongguo Yongjiu Juliu Shenpi Guanli Banfa [Measures for Administration of Examination and Approval of Foreigners’ Permanent Residence in China] (Order No. 74 of the Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Aug. 25, 2004), http://www.gov.cn/gongbao/content/2005/content_64214.htm.

[23] Waiguoren Zai Zhongguo Yongjiu Juliu Shenpi Guanli Banfa [Measures for Administration of Examination and Approval of Foreigners’ Permanent Residence in China] (Order No. 74 of the Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Aug. 25, 2004), http://www.gov.cn/gongbao/content/2005/content_64214.htm.

[24] Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Waiguoren Rujing Chujing Guanli Fa Shishi Xize [Implementation Measures of the Exit and Entry Administration Law of the People’s Republic of China] (approved by the State Council on Dec. 3, 1986, last amended Apr. 24, 2010), art. 4, http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2010-04/27/content_1593708.htm.

[25] Provisions, supra note 4, art. 8.

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Last Updated: 09/16/2014