The responsibility of being on the right visa to live and work in China ultimately falls on your own shoulders. However, it can be complicated. We talked to the UK government in China a few years ago about the crackdown on foreigners working illegally in the country – you can read it here. We have reached out to them again with some of the most frequently asked questions we have now received. While their answers are sometimes tailored to the British people, most of the advice is general – we hope it’s as useful to you as possible.
Who is responsible for making sure I have the right visa and work permit?
You need to take responsibility for making sure you have the right visa and work permit. Information on current visa requirements for China can be found here. Larger cities also have local government hotlines that you can call and general check. You do not have to provide your personal details.
The Public Employment Bureau requests the employer to ensure that foreign employees understand the status of the work permit, it is the mutual responsibility of the work permit holder and the employer to comply with the visa / work permit conditions.
What are the most common immigration crimes committed by UK citizens?
The most common immigration crimes are:
Overstaying – where someone stays in China after their visa expires or longer than the length of permission to stay on their visa.
Working illegally – The only visa issued to foreign nationals who intend to work in China is a ‘Z’ visa. Upon entering China, foreign nationals must apply for a residence permit within 30 days, which includes a valid work permit. Foreign nationals are considered to be working illegally if, without the permission of the Chinese authorities, they work outside the category given on their work permit.
Invalid / Invalid Work Permits – Work permits cover a specific district / area and sometimes a physical location such as a specific school. The work permit will be valid only in the territory specified by the issuing authority. You must get permission from your employer before you can move to another location, e.g. If you are employed in Shanghai and want to work in Hangzhou, you / your employer must notify the relevant exit / entry administration officials, even if you are with the same employer. If you intend to change employers once you are in China, you must check with Chinese authorities to see if a new visa and work permit are required and to obtain proper permission before doing so.
If you are employed by an agency, you should make sure that the work permit shows your actual employer, not the agency.
What are the penalties for overstaying a visa or working illegally?
Penalties for overwork or illegal work are determined by authorities and can vary depending on the severity of the immigration offense. These penalties are usually determined by personal circumstances, length of breach, the employer’s history, and other factors related to the case.
Various Chinese officials have input into the decision, such as the Exit / Entry Division Case Handling Authority of the Public Security Bureau. Administration detention is often granted. You will not go through the court process but can be sentenced to detention, often between 5 and 15 days and a fine of RMB 500 per day. Most cases also include deportation when detention ends.
In excessively long-term cases, foreign nationals could face up to 30 days in detention, while the Public Security Bureau will further investigate whether the person has committed other crimes and will consider whether criminal charges should be brought.
If criminal charges are brought, it is not uncommon for a court case to be taken between six and 12 months. This time is likely to be served in a detention center. If you are detained for a long time, consular staff will visit you on a regular basis (in most cases once every 4-6 weeks).
Conditions of stay in detention centers and prisons are basic and can vary between cities and provinces. In detention centers, a cell can hold more than 30 inmates. It is common for detainees to just set up the original bed and sleep on the floor.