Hiring China Employees Before Your WFOE Is Registered

Companies often come to our China WFOE lawyers wanting a Wholly Foreign Owned Entity (WFOE) formed “right away” so they can “immediately” bring on a China-based employee or employees.

No matter what anyone tells you, it is the rare WFOE that can be formed in less than three months, and three months is possible only if everything goes according to plan. So what’s a company to do in the meantime? Is there a way to hire a China Employee before your WFOE is registered?

The legal way to hire China employees, pre-WFOE is to have the person hired by FESCO — or some other third party hiring agency licensed to hire Chinese individuals on behalf of foreign entities. The Chinese individual is hired by FESCO and then dispatched to work for the foreign entity. Under rules that apply to FESCO and the other third party hiring agencies, the minimum term of the contract is two years. Usually there is an agreement between FESCO, the foreign company and the employee that at the time the WFOE is formed, the employee will voluntarily resign from their FESCO position. However, the risk of this is taken by the foreign entity, not by FESCO. This kind of arrangement is further complicated by the fact that in addition to the FESCO contract, the foreign entity will also require a series of contracts with the “employee” to deal with the transition to the WFOE, intellectual property/trade secrets and the like. FESCO charges a lot for the service, but it is the only way to do it while complying with Chinese law requirements.

There is also an illegal way to do it. The foreign company hires the Chinese individual as a consultant and pays the consultant to assist with forming the WFOE. After the WFOE is formed, the WFOE hires the Chinese consultant as an employee. The Chinese consultant is paid on an independent contractor basis. That is, the Chinese individual is paid a gross amount and it is the responsibility of the Chinese individual to pay his or her taxes in China.

This entire arrangement is completely illegal under Chinese law because China does not permit Chinese individuals to enter into consulting contracts with foreign entities. All businesses done in China by foreign entities must be done with a registered China business entity. We are aware of many companies having “hired” Chinese employees using this illegal method and years ago the odds of being caught and punished were low. But China has become far more effective and diligent at monitoring such arrangements and we do occasionally hear of foreign companies blocked from forming their WFOEs for having engaged in this practice. Nonetheless this regularly happens and most seem to get away with it.


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