Working Visa Policy Changes in 2017

2017 has been a year of change concerning Chinese work visa requirements for foreigners. This April saw the introduction of a new country-wide Z visa application system and set of regulations regarding foreign workers. Under the new system, anyone wishing to work in China must meet strict criteria to qualify for a work visa. The changes affect businesses across the board who employ foreign workers, but most notably the ESL industry.

The new Chinese work visa requirements state that to teach English in China, applicants must:

  • Hold a passport from UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa
  • Hold a Bachelor’s degree by beginning of placement
  • Complete a 120-hour TEFL qualification

Before being able to apply for a work visa, a foreigner must first receive a job offer and contract from a school. Once accepted, they must collect and send the following documents to the school to begin a work permit application:

  • Degree certificate
  • Police background check
  • TEFL certificate
  • Medical exam
  • Employer or university reference

The new system speeds up the work permit application process somewhat, however the new rules add an extra step to the already complicated Chinese work visa requirements and affect the eligibility of certain groups.

Here we outline the most significant changes to the Chinese work visa requirements and what they mean for you:

Restrictions on Non-Native Speakers

In the past, non-native speakers with a high level of English were eligible to teach English in China. In fact, European passport holders made up a large percentage of our foreign teacher community. This unfortunately changed in April, thanks to a country-wide law banning schools from employing non-native foreign English teachers. This rule is not designed to discriminate, rather it is to ensure students are exposed to native accents. The same rule applies to teachers employed for teaching any foreign language.

Demand for foreign English teachers in China far outweighs supply. Therefore, you may still find that some schools claim the ability to employ non-native speakers as English teachers. Approach this with caution; the new regulations state that this is strictly illegal across the whole of China. If you wish to teach in China, consider looking for roles teaching your native language. Though demand won’t be as high as for English, such positions do exist and are becoming increasingly important. If employed to teach your native language in China, as a foreigner you may still receive offers to tutor English. Provided this does not breach your contract or influence your visa status, this is perfectly acceptable. Chinese work visa requirements only state that foreigners cannot obtain a work visa to teach English without an above-listed passport.

If you are a non-native speaker looking to gain English teaching experience in China, we recommend considering shorter term options. Our Summer Internship and Homestay programmes are open to native and non-native speakers and we will be happy to consider your application. Please note, passport restrictions may still apply in some cases.

Authenticating Documents

As of this year, all foreigners applying for a work visa must authenticate certain documents, before sending to their schools. This adds an additional step to the process, but unfortunately, it’s unavoidable. The new Chinese work visa requirements state foreigners must have their degree certificate, police background check, and TEFL certificate* authenticated in their home country. This three-stage process requires applicants to do the following:

  1. Receive the signature of a solicitor or notary public,
  2. Apply for an apostille at your country’s legalisation office (e.g. FCO in UK)
  3. Submit the documents to the Chinese embassy for approval

Applicants must complete all three stages for each document. As each stage carries an individual fee, this new requirement can become quite costly for the applicant. The good news is our partner schools understand the inconvenience and will reimburse most, if not all associated costs. If you wish to receive further information on this matter, please get in touch.

*In cases where the TEFL certificate is provided by a recognised body in China, it does not need to be authenticated according to the current rules. Our August state school package includes a TEFL that does not need to be authenticated.

The Medical Examination

In previous years, all foreign applicants have had to undergo a full medical examination in their home country. Though this requirement remains in many provinces, rules are loosening, and some regions have abolished the exam entirely. Since all foreign workers must undergo a medical exam in their Chinese host city, certain regions are replacing the test with a simple declaration of health form.

The cost of medical exams vary depending on where you complete them and what tests you need to complete. However, thanks to the loosened restrictions, the costs associated with this aren’t as high as they used to be.

The New Work Permit System

You’ll be pleased to know that once you’ve completed the above stages, the process gets easier. Once the school has successfully completed a work permit application, they will issue their foreign employee with a work permit. Applicants need this to apply for the Z visa in your home country.

Prior to 2017, schools had to send the documents from China via post, making this a lengthy process. The new system simplifies this and allows employers to access and send foreigner work permits using the internet. Schools now instead send work permits directly to the visa centre at which the employee will apply for their visa. Visa centre staff must simply scan the permit’s unique barcode to check its authenticity. This new process speeds things up by a couple of weeks and makes preparing the visa application easier.

Though the regulations introduced under the new system have brought with them some inconveniences, they have been made with good reason and speed things up. Chinese work visa regulations are under frequent review and change is common. These are the most significant changes that have been made to the system in years and it seems they will remain for the coming year. We work closely alongside our partnering schools and organisations in China to stay at the forefront of the changes. For the most current information regarding the process, please get in touch.

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