Immigration Categories

A brief description of corporate immigration categories by assignment type follows. The appropriate immigration category or status for your employees will depend on their specific details and on your company. The most common category for corporate transfers of foreign nationals in our experience is the Alien Employment Permit application, commonly referred to as a Z Visa. For details on non-typical categories (e.g. Foreign Experts), please contact your representative.

Typical Process Overview

The following process overview is applicable to the Z Visa application process. The exact process and processing time varies by province and also by the type of registered company (e.g. branch office, representative office, regional headquarters). The approximate overall processing time from the time the first step is submitted to the time the employee is legal to work in China is ten (10) to thirteen (13) weeks. However, note that lead time for document gathering at the start of the process should be factored in, as should processing time for completion of post arrival formalities. Average processing time for each individual step is noted below.

Step One: Alien Employment License
Processing Time:
Two (2) to four (4) weeks, depending on the city

Our representatives in China can apply for an Alien Employment License from the Labor Bureau in the province where the employee will be working. Note that in some provinces, a medical examination result must be provided as part of this application, along with the applicant’s original degree certificate and police clearance report.

Step Two: Invitation Letter
Processing Time: One (1) to two (2) weeks

Once the Alien Employment License has been issued, a visa invitation letter is requested from the authorities to support the visa filing for the applicant.

Step Three: Z Visa (Consular)
Processing Time: One (1) to two (2) weeks, depending on the location

Once the invitation letter is ready, we can apply for the Z Visa at the Chinese Embassy/Consulate in the applicant’s country of residence or nationality. Certain Chinese Consulates (e.g. Saudi Arabia, etc.) require a medical report as supporting documentation for the visa application. In some cases, this will have been done for Step One already, depending on the requirements of the province the applicant is going to.

Step Four: Alien Employment Permit
Processing Time: One (1) to two (2) weeks

Post arrival, the Alien Employment Permit can be obtained. If a medical has not been provided yet, it will certainly be needed to support this stage.

Step Five: Residence Permit
Processing Time: Two (2) to four (4) weeks

Once the Alien Employment Permit has been issued, the final residence permit is applied for, securing a multiple entry status for the applicant through its validity. Personal appearance at the authorities for all applicants is required.

Typical Documents Obtained

Following the Alien Employment Permit application process described above will result in the obtention of the following immigration documents. Typical validity is noted next to each document name. For details on the renewal process, please see the next section, “Renewal.”

  • Alien Employment Permit: Typical duration: One (1) year. Secured post-arrival, within thirty (30) days of arrival.
  • Residence Permit: Typical duration: One (1) year. Secured post-arrival, within thirty (30) days of arrival, allowing multiple entries into China.


Renewal is possible. Renewal processes take approximately four (4) to six (6) weeks; please allow two (2) to three (3) weeks for additional lead time for document gathering.


The government of China requires all applicants to complete the following deregistration process upon departing the country.

Work Permit holders are required to submit their deregistration anytime from the end date of their assignment until ten (10) days after the official end date. The Work Permit deregistration takes about three (3) to fifteen (15) working days to finalize from the date of filing (processing time varies depending on filing jurisdiction). This may be completed after the employee departs China for the last time, as their physical presence in China is not needed. However, the original Work Permit booklet must be presented with the application form.

Residence Permit holders, including both employees and their dependents, are required to submit their deregistration at the Public Security Bureau at least seven (7) to eight (8) days before their Residence Permit expires. Residence Permit deregistration takes about seven (7) to eight (8) working days to process from the date of filing, during which time the applicant’s physical presence in China is needed, as their original passport will be retained at the Chinese authority until the application is completed. Upon completion of the Residence Permit deregistration, a zero entry China “TingLiu” visa will be endorsed on the passport, which will entitle the holder to remain in-country for up to thirty (30) days.

Note that the deregistration process may vary depending on filing jurisdiction. For example, in Beijing and Chongqing, the Work Permit needs to be deregistered first and Residence Permits can then be cancelled afterwards. The Work Permit deregistration can be submitted any time after the last working day stated on the company letter.


Dependent immigration status approval depends on the immigration status of the principal applicant. Where the principal applicant is in China with a Z Visa, the following rules apply for dependents:

  • Minimum age (spouses): Not applicable
  • Maximum age (children): Eighteen (18) years
  • Unmarried partners: No
  • Same sex partners: No
  • Non-traditional dependents (e.g. parents): Info
  • Work authorization granted? No

Since September 2013, there are two (2) visa categories applicable for family members of foreigners who are in China: the S1 visa and the S2 visa.

The S1 visa is acquired at a Consulate or Embassy of China for people who will enter for a period of more than one hundred eighty (180) days. This visa is available to children up to the age of eighteen (18) years, spouses, parents and parents-in-law. After arrival in China, holders of this visa must apply for a Residence Permit.

The S2 visa is applicable for people who will stay no more than one hundred eighty (180) days and may be acquired by spouses, children, parents, parent-in-law, siblings and their spouses or grandparents.

The S2 visa is essentially a visitor visa for purposes of visiting a family member who holds a Residence Permit, while the S1 visa is the visa acquired to stay in China long-term with the principal applicant.

Application Materials

Application materials vary depending on the immigration category being applied for and on the specifics of the case. We will advise you in detail regarding your specific case; however, general application materials for the Z visa application process are noted below.

  • A variety of personal and corporate documents will be needed to support the application, including current resume (C.V.), original or copy of diploma (depending on province – in Beijing the original diploma is required), birth and marriage certificates, immigration-approved medical exam, employment contracts, and corporate registration certificates.
  • All documentation must be submitted in Chinese. Non-Chinese documents must be translated. Diploma, Birth and Marriage certificates may require legalization. Emigra Worldwide can assist with legalization requirements in most instances.
  • In some cities, it will be necessary to provide a Certificate of No Criminal Conviction and the document may require legalization.

Business Visitors

  • Name of visa granted: Business (M) Visa if for commercial or trade activities.
  • Duration of stay: Normally thirty (30) days per entry and further extended in country. It is possible to obtain a longer duration of stay for certain special situations with an official invitation letter from the Chinese authorities.
  • General activities permitted: Orientation, home-finding, and other preparation for employment can be conducted under business visitor status. Other allowable activities would include business meetings, attending seminars or internal short-term training or exploring business opportunities.
  • Note: It is not compliant to use the Business M visa for purposes of long-term work in China.

Change of Status

A change of status is not possible in most provinces of China.

Salary and Payroll

Salary and payroll requirements vary depending on the immigration category and on the specifics of the case. The basic salary declared must be commensurate with the position applied. Assignees are liable for local tax. Generally, either a local or overseas employment contract/ assignment letter may be provided for immigration purposes. Please contact your representative for more details for your specific situation.


Qualification requirements will vary from case to case and will depend on the immigration category under which the application is made. However, in general, the immigration authorities do expect to see, for new hires, an undergraduate or graduate degree plus at least two (2) to three (3) years’ post-graduation relevant work experience.  In some situations, and for intra company transfer cases, a strong case may be made for applicants without a degree, provided their level of experience and industry specific qualification is high. Please contact your representative for more details.

Red Flags

In our experience, the following points are important to note at the start of the process. If any of the below situations apply to you, contact your representative immediately for further detailed advice.

  • Domestic partners who may not be able to receive dependent status.
  • An absence of a degree or relevant experience can complicate Z Visa applications.
  • The immigration authorities may also look at the employer’s ratio of foreign to local workers.
  • Age caps are imposed by gender for employees. Application of this varies by province, but on average, it is sixty (60) years of age for males and fifty-five (55) years of age for females.
  • Chinese government does not recognize dual nationalities. Foreign passport holders of Chinese origin are required to have deregistered from their home registry “HuKou” and the Chinese national.
  • Record of criminal conviction
  • Prior Work Permit has not been deregistered properly. Cancellation before filing the new application or explanation may be required.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

The government of China takes immigration non-compliance very seriously. Penalties for non-compliance may include fines, deportation, and imprisonment.

Employee Penalties:

Individuals who fail to comply with immigration law may be fined an amount between 5,000 RMB and 20,000 RMB for “illegal work”. Illegal workers may also be detained for five (5) to fifteen (15) days.

Employer Penalties:

Employers with illegal foreign workers shall be subject to a fine of RMB10,000 for each alien so employed, up to 100,000 RMB, and the illegal gains, if any, shall be confiscated.

For more details, please contact your representative.

Bilateral Agreements

  • Holders of passports issued by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), Macau SAR or Taiwan (Republic of China) are subject to different procedures. Contact your representative for more details.