China’s New Foreigner Work Permit System Goes National On April 1: Have you Checked Your Employment Contract?

In October 2016, China initiated a pilot program for foreigner work permits in a few cities (including Beijing and Shanghai) and provinces that integrates foreigner entry employment licenses and foreign expert employment licenses into one “foreigner employment permit.” This pilot program is intended to streamline current application and administration procedures and processes and to attract more high-level foreign talent to China. As of March 28, 2017, the pilot cities/provinces have processed 20,188 applications, and issued 4,375 foreigner work license notices (外国人工作许可通知) and 9,638 foreigner work permits (外国人工作许可证) and 21,866 employers have registered their accounts with the relevant authorities.

The program will go national on April 1, 2017. Tomorrow.

Under the new regime, the current foreign expert work license and foreigner employment license will be integrated into one document called the foreigner work license notice. The employer and foreign applicant will be able to complete and submit the license form electronically. The original “alien employment permit” and “foreign expert certificate” will be integrated into one permit called the foreigner work permit. Every foreigner will have one permit number per foreigner work permit, which will be used by the same individual for life.

A nationwide administration service system for foreigners coming to China will be established. The application materials required for submission will be considerably fewer than previously, reducing by about half the documentation needed to submit.

Foreigners will be divided into three categories: A for high level talent, B for professional personnel, and C for foreigners who are nontechnical or service workers hired on a temporary/seasonal basis. Various criteria will be rated and used to generate a score for each foreign applicant, such as salary, educational background, Chinese language fluency, experience, and length of service. The goal is to encourage A level foreigners to come to and work in China, exert control over B level foreigners and restrict/limit the C levels.

A “green channel” will be available to A high level foreign talent. These high level foreigners will no longer need to submit hard copies of the documents required to apply for a foreigner work permit notice or for a visa application before entering into China. A self-certification system will be used for work experience, diplomas, and proof of no criminal record. The review and approval period for work permit application, extension and cancellation will go down from 10 business days to 5 business days and the longest permissible period for the work permit will be extended to 5 years.

China continues easing burdens and reducing hurdles to make its workforces more global and China employers are showing much greater willingness to spend real money to attract high-level foreign talent. Years ago it was a rare month in which a foreign executive would retain one of our China employment lawyers to review their contracts with their new China employers. These days, it is a rare week where we do not have at least a couple of such contracts under review. But what has not changed a bit is that pretty much every such contract we have reviewed has greatly favored the Chinese employer at the expense of the foreign executive) and many (most?) contain well-known China-specific loopholes that work against the foreign executive or fail to provide the employee with what he or she had been promised. Sad to say, but with the onslaught of high level foreign employee hirings has come an onslaught of high level foreign employees who have gone to China believing they would get one package and then finding out months later that they got a far lesser one.

Have you checked your China employee contract? I mean really checked it? You should.