In the past, many foreigners came to China for short-term work of less than 90 days by holding a business visa. They had to obtain work permits only if they signed employment contracts with Chinese entities or were seconded to work in China for more than 90 days.

As of 1 January 2015 this is no longer possible in some cases due to the Relevant Handling Procedures for Implementation of Short-term Work by Foreigners Entering into China (Trial) issued jointly by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Culture on 6 November 2014 (the "Handling Procedures").

Foreigners entering into China doing the following types of short-term work for a period of less than 90 days must now obtain short-term work permits:

  • completing specific work for a Chinese cooperation partner in connection with technology, scientific research, management, provision of guidance, etc.;
  • trial training at a sports institute;
  • shooting a film;
  • participating in a fashion show;
  • foreign related commercial performances; and
  • other cirumstances [or rather, "are not automatically exempted"?] from the requirement to hold these permits

A short-term work permit refers to the following:

  • for a foreigner whose working period is less than 30 days, an employment license and a work certificate issued by the competent labor administration authority must be obtained; and
  • for a foreigner whose working period is 30 days or more, in addition to the above mentioned permits, the foreigner must further obtain a work related residence permit with a validity period of 90 days from the competent public security authority.

Please note that foreigners whose home country has signed a bilateral visa exemption agreement with China cannot be exempted [or rather, "are not automatically exempted"?] from the requirement to hold these permits.

Notwithstanding the above, with the exception of the following types of work, a work permit is not required for short-term work of less than 90 days:

  • provision of repair, installation, commissioning, disassembly, guidance and training services for machinery purchase contracts;
  • provision of guidance, supervision and inspection for a project located in China which was obtained through bidding;
  • assignment by an overseas company to complete a short-term work at its branch, subsidiary or representative office located in China;
  • participation in sports events held in China;
  • entry into China as a volunteer without remuneration in China; and
  • other performances which are not defined as "foreign related commercial performances" in China.

The Handling Procedures specifically clarify that a foreigner entering into China for the purposes stated in the above items (i) to (iv) has to obtain a business visa, i.e. a M visa. For the purposes stated in the above items (v) to (vi), the foreigner has to obtain a visit visa for non-business purposes, i.e. a F visa.

In case of any breach of the Handling Procedures, the foreigner will be regarded as working in China illegally. The foreigner may be subject to a penalty from RMB 5,000 to RMB 20,000. In severe cases, he or she may even be detained for 5 to 15 days. The Chinese entity which the foreigner works for, on the other hand, may be subject to penalties of RMB 10,000 per person with a cap of RMB 100,000 in total. Any illegal income derived may be confiscated.

The issuance of the Handling Procedures is one of the measures recently taken by the Chinese government to better supervise foreigners working in China. Foreign companies regularly assigning employees to do short-term work or perform contracts in China by holding a business visa should especially pay close attention to these new regulations and their future development.