Current requirements for visa applications
Entry policy Q&A
A recent epidemiological report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated a global decline in the number of covid-19 cases and related deaths. While the pandemic situation appears to be improving, employers in China that have foreign employees should stay aware of the latest immigration rules, as issues that surround the entry or re-entry of such employees into China may negatively affect business operations. This article provides an overview of the evolution of immigration policies in this regard and clarifies the current entry rules.
On 26 March 2020, the National Immigration Administration (NIA) announced that entry would be suspended for foreign nationals who hold a valid Chinese visa or residence permit:
In view of the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the world, China has decided to temporarily suspend the entry into China by foreign nationals holding visas or residence permits still valid to the time of this announcement, effective from 0 a.m., 28 March 2020. Entry by foreign nationals with APEC Business Travel Cards will be suspended as well. Foreign nationals coming to China for necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs may apply for visas at Chinese embassies or consulates. Entry by foreign nationals with visas issued after the announcement will not be affected.
The NIA later announced, on 23 September 2020, that entry would reopen for foreign nationals who hold a valid Chinese residence permit in three categories:
Foreign nationals holding valid Chinese residence permits for work, personal matters and reunion are allowed to enter China with no need for applying for new visas, effective from 0 a.m., 28 September 2020. If the above three categories of residence permits held by foreign nationals expired after 0 a.m., 28 March 2020, the holders may apply for relevant visas by presenting the expired residence permits and relevant materials to the Chinese embassies or consulates on the condition that the purpose of the holders' visit to China remains unchanged. Other measures in the Announcement issued on March 26, 2020 will continue to be implemented.
On 4 November 2020, the government reinstated the temporary entry suspension of foreign nationals from 13 countries. Foreign nationals visiting China for emergency needs could apply for visas at Chinese embassies or consulates. Further, those in the following 13 countries with visas issued after the suspension announcement were not affected:
- the Philippines
- Ukraine; and
- the United Kingdom.
As of 2022, only Argentina, France and the United Kingdom have been removed from this list.
On 15 March 2021, the government eased the visa policy for foreigners who had taken vaccines produced in China. The Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland clarified in a statement:
Starting from March 15, 2021, foreign nationals and their family members visiting the mainland China to resume work or for necessary business activities need only to provide the documents as were required before the outbreak of COVID-19 when applying for a visa, under the condition that China produced vaccine is inoculated. The relaxed policy is effective over 100 countries as of today. A link of the official statement included below for reference.
The success of the application is subject to circumstances of individuals. Employers, therefore, should seek professional advice from qualified immigration experts before making plans for employees to enter China.
Current requirements for visa applications
Currently, an individual can make a visa application if they:
- have obtained an invitation letter (PU) or a verification confirmation of invitation issued by the foreign affairs office (FAO) of the provincial government or the provincial department of commerce where the economic, trade, scientific or technology-related activity will take place;
- have obtained a foreigner's work permit notification letter, as well as a PU or a verification confirmation of invitation for working in China;
- intend to visit an immediate family member (foreign nationals included) in China (ie, parents, spouses, children, grandparents or grandchildren) who is in a critical medical condition and in need of care, or to arrange funeral matters of an immediate family member in China;
- qualify for a crew (C) visa; or
- qualify for a high-level talent (R) visa (this can include a spouse and/or children under the age of 18).
These possibilities give employers several options to secure the status of foreign employees in China.
What type of foreign nationals can enter China under current travel ban?
Entry may be granted to the those who:
- hold valid a Chinese permanent residence card;
- hold a valid diplomatic, official, courtesy or a C visa;
- engage in necessary economic, trade, scientific and technological activities;
- hold a valid Chinese residence permit in the three exempt categories (the 10 countries in the banned list are not included in this);
- wish to enter for urgent humanitarian needs;
- have taken a covid-19 vaccine that was produced in China; and
- hold a valid confirmation letter for "high-level foreign talents", along with their accompanying spouse and children under the age of 18.
How can a business visa be granted under current travel ban?
Unlike the previous application process, the applicants need to obtain a PU from the FAO of the relevant provincial government before applying for the business visa in Chinese embassies and consulates abroad. The PU is the key factor in a successful business visa application. The visa officer will determine the duration of each stay based on the maximum stay that has been approved in the PU. Only single-entry visas can be granted under current circumstances.
What is a PU letter and how can it be issued?
A PU is an official letter of invitation for business and work purposes that provincial FAOs in China are empowered to issue.
FAOs in different cities have various requirements and processing times. Generally, the host company or institution in China must initiate the PU application and provide supporting details that prove that the foreign employee plays an indispensable role in the company and is needed urgently in China. High-level management or highly skilled technical personnel, such as the following, typically fit these criteria:
- senior management who handles daily operations;
- engineers and technicians who are in charge of assembly lines; and
- leaders of major science and technology projects.
The host company or institution must submit the relevant documents to the relevant FAO, stating, for example, that significant economic losses will occur if the foreigner cannot enter China. The FAO will make the final decision on the issuance of the PU. The PU application process can be time-consuming (it takes approximately two months), and there is no guarantee that it will be approved
Can family members of foreign nationals enter China?
From September 2021, many FAOs have begun to issue PUs to foreign family dependents (ie, spouses and children under the age of 18) in a gradual and consistent manner. Family dependents can join the PU application with the principal applicant or lodge their own independent application (while the principal applicant is currently working and living in China). After obtaining the PU, the foreign family dependents may apply for the entry visa from their local Chinese embassy or consulate.
Do individuals have to be vaccinated against covid-19 before entering China?
The government has not issued specific requirements on whether people entering China must be vaccinated against covid-19. For people who have already taken a vaccine produced in China, the process of visa application is simpler: no PU letter is required (according to the 15 March 2021 policy). For those who have not taken a Chinese covid-19 vaccine, they will be required to show vaccination certificates from WHO-approved covid-19 vaccines when applying for the PU.
Are there any pre-travel requirements?
All China-bound passengers must take a nucleic acid test and serology IgM anti-body test (a double test) and apply for a green health code with the "HS" mark or a certified health declaration form before boarding. The employee's local embassy or consulate website should be checked prior to travel to ensure compliance with the latest requirements.
Is quarantine still required after entry?
Under current policy, all travellers entering China from abroad, including Chinese nationals, are subject to minimum 14 days' compulsory quarantine at a designated hotel, even if they have been vaccinated. In Shanghai, foreign arrivals must take six or more nucleic acid tests during the 14-day quarantine and spend a subsequent seven days quarantining at home before they can be released. For those who have completed the 14-day quarantine but are unable to complete the seven-day home quarantine, the government will arrange for the additional seven days to be spent in a designated hotel at the passengers' own expense. Employers will need to factor this into their business operations, especially if the employee's duties cannot be carried out fully or partially from quarantine.
Employers and employees should be cognisant of the current rules regarding entry into China and be mindful of the fact that they are likely to change in the future, as the pandemic situation evolves and, hopefully, improves. The various restrictions on entry into China may cause serious delays and have a negative impact on business operations if foreign employees are unable to enter or re-enter China for work purposes. Employers should take into account the numerous factors that may help or hinder an employee's right to enter China and should stress during the application process that the foreign employee's presence in China is essential to the company's economic success.
For further information on this topic please contact Jing Wu at JunHe by email ([email protected]). The JunHe website can be accessed at www.junhe.com.