Got a worried call the other day from a China based foreign businessperson complaining about being forced to return to his home country because his China tourist visa was about to run out. Not only was he mad about being unable to renew his visa from within China or even by jumping over to Hong Kong, but he knew his chances of getting a new multiple entry visa were very low.
Our conversation from this point went something like this:
Him: I have a $5 million a year business to run in Shanghai.
Me: I understand your concern.
Him: Doesn’t China care about foreign businesses any more? How can they expect me to run my business from Chicago.There is no way that is going to work.
Me: Are you familiar with China’s Z visas for employees?
Me: Have you tried to secure a Z visa?
Me: Why not?
Him: I’ve only been in China for three years. When I first came to China, things were different. We started out with only three Chinese employees. Back then, there were no laws in China. We’ve thought about setting up ourselves up in China as a Rep Office and we have started to look into that.
Me: There is no way you can be a Rep Office in China with what you are doing. Not even close. But what you are saying then is that you do not have a company in China at all. Is that right?
Him: That’s right.
Me: Well, if you want anything approaching certainty regarding your visa, we are going to have to form a China WFOE for you.
Him: Can you get that up and running within a month?
Me: Not possible. Figure on it taking 3-5 months.
Him: Well then that is just not going to work.
Me: Do you have something in mind that will work?
Him: Not yet, but I will keep looking. I’ve been here for three years doing this and I just cannot believe that is just going to change like that.
Me: But wouldn’t you agree that it already has?
Me: If you end up wanting to go the WFOE route, let me know. Because that really is your only option and the sooner you start on forming your WFOE in China, the sooner you will have a WFOE in China.
This conversation is fairly typical as China continues cracking down hard on those there illegally and as it begins tightening its standards for receiving visas. The interesting thing about all this is that the foreigners who complain about being unable to get a good China visa are almost always in China illegally.
The Bottom Line: If it is important to your company that you be in China, your only real solution is to secure an employee Z visa and the only way you as a foreigner can be an employee under Chinese law is for you to be an actual employee of a real Chinese company. be it a Chinese domestic company or a China WFOE or a China Joint Venture. In other words, you must get legal and though that cannot be done instantly, delay only breeds more delay.
For the latest on what is happening in China with visas because of the Olympics, check out the following:
- Bracing for the Olympic Games, China Sets Rules That Complicate Life for Foreigners in the New York Times.
- Queue Up Now: China’s Visa Nightmare in the Huffington Post.
- As Olympics near, jittery China clamps down on foreigners, concerts in McClatchy newspapers.