Legal News

China is Cracking Down on Illegal Foreigners

China visas

Twice last week I got calls from companies wanting to get legal in China. URGENTLY. One company is in Shandong province, the other is in Shanghai. Both have been operating illegally in China for years.

I asked both “why now?” and they both gave essentially the same response:

I want to register my business in China so I can work in China legally. I’m hearing that the government has begun and will be stepping up its efforts to root out foreigners here illegally.

With both, I then discussed how a crackdown on foreigners in China will play well politically as a counterweight to China’s tightening job market. Chinese citizens are not going to take kindly to its government allowing illegal foreigners to “take jobs” from the locals.

The People’s Daily wrote on this the other day, in an article entitled, Illegal workers identified, in what I see as the government’s opening salvo/warning on the issue of foreigners working illegally in China.  The article talks about a recent crackdown on 377 foreigners in Shanghai “found to be working here last year without the necessary documentation.”

The People’s Daily article highlights the classic way in which foreigners manage to get into China to work illegally: entering on a tourist visa.

If you are working in China you need a work visa. If you are working for a Chinese company or a properly registered foreign company, you need to make sure you and your employer go through the proper steps to secure approval for you to work in China as an employee. If you are working for a foreign company in China that is not properly registered to do business in China, you have two choices for getting legal. You either register the business and secure approval for you to work in China as an employee or you leave the country.

Or, maybe you think tightening China employment will not impact you, in which case, I would love to hear why you think that is the case.

What are you seeing/hearing out there?

15 responses to “China is Cracking Down on Illegal Foreigners”

  1. I am sure that the process of getting a business registered is a huge hassle, but from the perspective of an individual foreign employee, getting a proper visa doesn’t seem to be a big deal. The process certainly isn’t too obscure or difficult for an ordinary person, with halfway-competent Chinese colleges to help out. Yet the People’s Daily article quotes one foreigner claiming it was too hard to figure out how to ensure he was staying in Shanghai legally.
    I went to China on a tourist visa, and shortly after my arrival jumped through a few hoops to get it converted to a one-year multi-entry F visa so that I was legal for a one-year “temporary assignment” at my company’s China office. (That L to F visa conversion process was removed during the Olympic period but I’m guessing it is already available again.)

  2. The People’s Daily version of that Xinhua article left out information that was published in the Shanghai Daily version. Namely, that most of the 377 foreigners found working illegally were employed in “entertainment venues,” and included musicians who didn’t have specific performance licenses. With the very important exception of the Olympic period, entertainment-oriented deportations have been the most common, by far, in the six years I’ve been here. These include musicians, dancers and club DJs employed in a freelance capacity, and who have the added burden of having to get a performing license for each performance given. In some cases, these performers are associated with venues in which drugs and prostitution are common (ie, some “dancers” don’t really dance), and that’s one reason that they get busted. But not in every case: there are plenty of venues in Shanghai who’ve hired freelance creatives for years, kept up their “relations” with the local police, and remained unmolested.
    Dan – I wouldn’t take the People’s Daily article as an indication of anything other than Shanghai’s regular purging of its foreign entertainers. I work around quite a few people on the creative side of things in Shanghai, most of whom are on F visas, and things have actually loosened up for them over the last three months. In fact, my sources tell me that Shanghai wants to lay off its quasi-legal freelance and small business community because a) it creates jobs, and b) it rarely competes against Shanghai’s homegrown industries. In fact, a few weeks ago I met with a Shanghai gov’t official who expressed concern that Shanghai “was losing its foreigners.”

  3. I wonder how hard it is getting for foreign workers to transfer their Z visa if they part with an employer on bad terms. Used to be the law said you needed a severance letter to transfer the Z but the new employer could always “work around that”.
    I do know that the PSB often catches illegal foreigners when they travel, since they have to show their passport which has the visa sticker.

  4. In the article, the foreigner says that he did not know the process; he didn’t say that he thought it was too hard to figure out. Actually, from my conversation with the guy he was a bit annoyed as what has been quoted isn’t exactly what he said. (go figure…)
    Instead, he mentioned he was surprised by the 377 number as that seemed a bit low; and believed there were many more foreign as well as ‘waidiren’ working in shanghai than that. He went on to mention to the intern that spoke to him, that there should be more government sponsored resources for foreigners as so many seemed poorly educated on the subject.
    I’d agree with Dan, however, in that as the economy worsens, foreigners will find themselves open to greater government scrutiny and risks of public resentment. Getting on the right visa and making sure you qualify for the visa (yes, there are minimum qualifications to working in China) will go a long way in protecting yourself. I’d also venture to say that there will be an increase of crimes against foreigners (and probably just in general, an increase in crime). Safety concerns will increase as well.

  5. I live in Beijing, and have been here for the better part of two years.
    Two weeks ago, my American fiancee applied for an L to F visa conversion. Initially, the company agreed to process the claim at a charge of 2100 RMB, but then two days later she got a call asking her to come down and pick up her paperwork as quickly as possible.
    That day all visa companies in Beijing had been told that they could no longer make these conversions. Current F visa holders, however, are still able to convert visas. I checked in with another agent and she confirmed this to be the case.
    Initially, I thought this might have something to do with the upcoming 60th anniversary celebrations as preparations are affecting a whole host of grayline businesses, in some cases much more than the Olympics did. But,this fits in rather neatly within a broader trend of greater visa regulation in the past year and a half.
    There are still ways around the system, for those unwavering souls unwilling to assimilate to the new rules – but these usually require very strong Chinese relations and a trip as far North as Dongbei, or as far South as Shenzhen.
    In any case, it is time to get your ducks in order if you have any long term plans in China – whether you own a business, or not – because these new legal ‘hassles’ are, in my view, here to stay.

  6. My boss was recently very happy with his success in hiring the three new teachers he needed. He said that with the state of the economy in America, there were plenty of Americans looking to move over here.
    “He went on to mention to the intern that spoke to him, that there should be more government sponsored resources for foreigners as so many seemed poorly educated on the subject.”
    Sorry, but sounds like a typical spoilt expat, and being an English teacher, I have to deal with a few too many who cry words to the effect of “But it wasn’t written in English and put right in front of my face”. It’s never been difficult to find out what one needs to be legal in China. I’ve known this- i.e. what I need to be legally present and working in China- since the middle of 1999, before I’d ever left New Zealand, and although certain details have changed, the basic rules have not. It has never been difficult to find out what you need to be legal in China.
    So I’m guessing from this post and my experience that if my boss is right in that there’s a surplus of Americans and other Westerners fleeing the economy in their homelands, and if there is a crackdown on illegal immigration underway, then Chinese employers of foreigners are in a position to pick and choose, and those of us foreign employees who have chosen decent employers need to behave ourselves, but if we behave, we’re alright.

  7. In the lead-up to the Olympics the whole visa situation was a mess. I had many freelancer friends who either had to leave the country or pay to have a Z visa processed. I was stopped on the street twice in two months to have my Z visa and passport checked!
    After the Olympics things have got much easier. All the dodgy visa agencies have reopened and seem to be doing business as usual.
    In recent weeks, however, L to F visa conversions have been stopped. I personally think this is a good thing. Those wishing to work or take on consulting work in China should have a plan to do so before they come to China and should organise the correct paperwork. Chinese nationals travelling overseas would be expected to do the same thing!

  8. Just to add my own comments on this, as I was the person who was quoted in this particular article…It was a discussion over the phone between me and a friend of mine interning at China Daily. She began by telling me that there were 377 foreigners working illegally, at which point I commented that seems a bit low. Then she went on to ask “Do you think many of the foreigners working in China illegally understand the policies and laws; do you think a website would help?” My response was “Yes, I believe many of the foreigners working here illegally do not understand the policy and a website would help”.
    Also, the person that wrote the article is not the person that spoke with me.
    Basically, what I said was not only taken out of context, but actually changed.

  9. @chriswaugh_bj Not sure how you got from that quote ‘your typical spoilt expat.’ Again he was not indicating his OWN understanding of the immigration policies but those of others. Furthermore, the realities of work permits is not always the same as that of regulations and the process is not always transparent – as we saw last year’s pre-Olympic crack down that was initially denied by the government.
    The process is not always clear but I am glad that it is for English teachers – I would love to have that connection.
    Chinese consulates and Embassies seem to be the last to find out about changes in Visa policies and I have watched a number of my clients denied Visa’s on the grounds that they did not issue them in that particular consulate even after we had verified by phone locally and in the foreign country that they did. One Chinese consulate in a developed country even decided that they would begin insisting on health checks before issuing Z visas; of course there was no official announcement of this change and one of our clients had to spend several additional days in their home country to conduct a health exam that they would only have to do again when they applied for their work permit in China. Nothing like another chest x-ray to keep you healthy!
    Shanghai recently had the PSB change over their entire registration system and every foreigner was required to reregister with their local station by a certain date. Of course no one figured that it would be a good idea to inform those spoilt expats with perhaps a text message or through the mail so I doubt many have actually completed this process.
    It’s a developing country and often times dealing with the government is Kafkaesque; and will be for some time to come.

  10. There are many English teachers who aren’t on the right visa because either their school isn’t allowed to employ foreigners, or the teacher doesn’t have the qualifications and experience necessary to get a visa.
    I know that there are smaller cities where the police turn a blind eye to this, understanding that the English schools simply can not get teachers to meet the requirements. Many universities get around it by having good connections and embellishing the teacher’s resume.
    Even if there is a tightening up in the major cities, I can’t see the situation changing much in smaller cities – there aren’t enough foreigners to have any public relations benefit, and the shut-down of English schools wouldn’t benefit the city.
    But I suspect that a lot of foreigners in China accept their illegitimate status because they don’t realise how easy it is for them to get into other difficulties with the police. If there are any other problems at all, the local police can take advantage of that lack of a proper visa. Any complaint about police impropriety will be met with “Well, you’d better not make a fuss, as you’re not here legally.”
    Even if it is possible to be here illegally, it really really is in the interests of those foreigners to be here legally. They may have good relations with the police now, but it is very easy for that to get messed up.

  11. I have the problem of wanting to legally open a very-small-business, and finding it so hard to do it legally whilst staying economically-viable.
    I should be able to legally register my business from an apartment in Beijing, so I hear, but no landlords are willing to give me the paperwork necessary to do it.
    Trying to be a work-from-home small business here seems to be impossible, or at least impossibly expensive. I plan to try and expand the business within the first few years to be able to employ local people, but its the getting started part that is so hard to do legally and in a small way.

  12. It is typically impossible to open a business legally in one’s apartment and that is why the landlords are not willing to give you the paperwork to do it. You have to realize that the Chinese government does not want super small foreign businesses in China. They do not want them because though they (and virtually every business) may plan on getting bigger, it is just not worth it to allow it and to have to answer to their citizens for having allowed it.

  13. Getting a visa as an employee seems to depend — like so much else in China — on how reputable your employer is. I know too many English teachers working on the wrong visa because their employees promised to take care of everything, that it’s fine, this is how we do things in China, etc., and new-grad English teachers accept that as part of the foreign experience.
    It seems like established businesses have no trouble sponsoring Z visas, but I don’t know how one gets to be an established business if you rely on foreign employees. “Gifts” to your local PSB, perhaps?

  14. Chinese authority should look for this problem overseas because they are the biggest provider of “illegal” foreigner employee in the world, and I mean skilled, high-ranked employee. I work for a big Chinese company here in Vietnam, and apart from the CEO of the company, nobody hold a lawful work permit. Vietnamese laws provided that any expat who has been working in Vietnam for 3 months must obtain a work permit, but those Chinese guys (more than 170) have been here for over a year without any slight idea about it. When urged to do that, they simply show reluctance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *