Having lived in Beijing for nearly four years, I have realized that keeping abreast of visa regulations is a must. I came to China on a student visa, then switched to a work visa after I graduated. Sounds straight forward, but when it came time, I had to do the laowai (“foreigner”) ritual of going on a visa run to Hong Kong.
The visa run may sound daunting, but it’s nothing compared to dealing with the underground agents who charge a fortune to switch your visa domestically. Even the Hong Kong route is not guaranteed anymore, as new regulations state that work visas must be applied for from the candidate’s home country.
In September 2013, a new set of laws came into effect, expanding the number of visa categories from eight to 12. The visas are referred to by their letters: C, D, F, G, J, L, M, Q, R, S, X, and Z. Here’s an overview of the changes.
New Visa Categories
M Visa 商贸, shangmao
Also known as the “commercial visa,” the M visa covers business- and commerce-related trips, which in the past fell under the F visa. This indicates people who are visiting China on business or planning to participate in a trade fair. The longest duration granted is 12 months with multiple entries.
Q Visa 亲属, qinshu
This visa is intended specifically for families (previously covered under the L visa). People whose family members are Chinese citizens or foreign nationals with Chinese residence permits are eligible for this visa. Only spouses, parents, sons, daughters, spouses of sons or daughters, brothers, sisters, grandparents, grandchildren, and parents-in-law qualify.
The Q visa has two subclasses, Q1 and Q2. The Q1 is also known as Family Reunion or Foster Care visa and allows long-term stays of over 180 days. A trip to the Public Security Bureau (PSB) within 30 days of entry is required. The Q2 visa is for stays of under 180 days; there is no need to visit the PSB unless an extension is required.
S Visa 私人事务, siren shiwu
Also known as the “private visit visa,” the S visa is intended for family members (spouses, parents, minor children, and parents-in-law) who are visiting or staying with foreigners who reside in China for work, study, or other purposes. This is also divided into two categories, S1 and S2.
R Visa 人才, rencai
The “talent visa” is issued to visiting or staying foreign, high-level professionals whose expertise in their field is considered authoritative and valuable to China.
Changes to Existing Visa Categories
F Visa 访问, fangwen
In the past, the F visa covered short-term business travel, short-term study programs, and other types of cultural exchanges. Now, it’s only valid for short-term, non-commercial “exchanges, visits, and inspections” for scientific, educational, cultural, health, or sports purposes.
L Visa 旅游, lvyou
One of the most-issued visa categories, the tourist visa used to cover both tourists and those visiting family in China. Now, it’s reserved exclusively for tourists and tour groups.
X Visa 学生, xuesheng
Also known as the student visa, the X visa is issued to those who intend to study or intern in China for more than six months. If the study or internship period is under six months, the candidate must apply for an F visa. Either visa does not grant permission to work; if discovered, the student faces immediate deportation.
J Visa 记者, jizhe
The elusive journalist visa is a specialist visa that requires several extra documents, including a Visa Notification Letter issued by the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an official letter signed by the head of the foreign media organization, an invitation from Chinese media authorities (if working for Chinese Media), or an itinerary. The visa is divided into two subcategories, J1 and J2. J1 is for resident journalists staying in China for more than 180 days. J2 is for visiting journalists staying less than 180 days.
Documents Required to Apply for a Visa
For work visas, your company’s HR department will handle some of the paperwork before you get to China. Required documents include:
- The results of a health check done in a Chinese Embassy-certified clinic or hospital. This must be completed no more than six months before your intended date of entry in China.
- A work license from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Labor and Social Security. This usually takes ten working days.
- A government-issued invitation letter that must be applied for by your company, which takes at least five working days. For other types of visas, such as the S visa, an invitation letter containing the applicant’s contact details, purpose of visit, bank statements going back three months, and the inviter’s personal information.
- After the work license and the invitation letter are sent to the applicant, they must apply for a three-month temporary work visa from the Chinese Embassy.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Obtaining a Z Visa from the PSB
Upon arriving in China, registration at the local police station is required within 24 hours. You can do this in person or in some cases through your realtor. Those who need a long-term stay visas or need an extension must also visit the Public Security Bureau (PSB).
For Z visa applicants, your passport, proof of address, and medical certificate from the Beijing International Travel Health Center of Beijing (see p16 for more on this) must be taken to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Labor and Social Security to apply for a work permit (not be confused for the work license). This takes five working days to process.
Then, go to the PSB with all the documents (work permit, filled-out application form, temporary residence registration, company’s business license, and two passport-sized photos). It usually takes 15 working days to process.
After you’ve picked up your new Z visa, you’ll need to re-register at the local police station. Your old temporary residence form will be exchanged for a new one. Do not lose this document, as it proves your residence status and allows you to do things like open a bank account in China.
Other Changes to Visa Regulations
There are a few changes to the duration of stays, processing times, penalties, and required documents:
- L or F visa extensions take seven working days (used to be five working days)
- L visa can only be extended once for a maximum of 30 days (used to be twice for 30 days each extension.
- The residence permit application takes 15 working days (used to be five working days)
- The immigration office (Exit and Entry Administration) recommends that all foreigners process their visas at least one week before they expire; the earlier, the better. Don’t wait until the last couple of days to take action.
- Late household registration (exceeding 24 hours) at your local police station carries a maximum penalty of RMB 2,000.
- Expired visas carry a penalty of RMB 500 per day with a maximum penalty of RMB 10,000 (used to be RMB 5,000)
- A certificate of No Criminal Record is required when applying for a work permit in Beijing
- From now on, applicants must “provide fingerprints and other human biometric information.” It’s unclear what the “other human biometric information” is.
- Married couples must provide the original copy of their marriage certificate notarized by a public notary in the country where the certificate was issued and authenticated by the Chinese Embassy. Families with children must supply their original birth certificates, notarized like the above. If the birth certificate was issued in China, this step can be skipped.
Public Security Bureau (PSB) Entry & Exit Administration 北京市公安局出入境管理处
2/F, 2 Andingmen Dongdajie, Dongcheng District (8402 0101) 东城区安定门东大街2号2层
Photo: Wikimedia Commons