SAFEA Initiates New Work Permit Scheme for Foreigners

On 27 September 2016, the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs issued the Notice on the Implementation of the Pilot Programme for the Issuance of a Work Permit System for Foreigners in China.

The pilot programme will be in effect from 1 October 2016 to 31 March 2017 in Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanghai, Anhui, Shandong, Guangdong, Sichuan, Yunnan and Ningxia. The new system will be implemented nationwide from 1 April 2017.

The pilot programme introduces a new, combined system for evaluating and issuing work permits for foreigners in China. Under the new system, all foreigners who work in mainland China will be required to obtain an Approval to Work in China for Foreigners and a Work Permit for Foreigners and will be identified by a single code number through which the government will maintain files on foreigners’ work history.

The new system divides all foreign employees into three groups: high-end, general and low-end. Each candidate will be classified based on a talent assessment system that includes a criteria assessment measure and a scoring measure. Candidates are only required to satisfy either measure. The new system encourages the issuance of work permits for high-end foreign personnel by:

  • Not limiting the number of work permits.
  • Standardising and simplifying the application materials.
  • Accepting an online copy of application materials.
  • Shortening the process for issuing work permits.

In turn, the new system aims to strengthen the supervision of permit holders by sharing information through a database open to various administrative departments, including the departments in charge of human resources, public security and foreign affairs.

Market Reaction
Jonathan Isaacs, Partner, Baker & McKenzie, Hong Kong

"During the pilot programme, the policy and implementation method may change from time to time and from city to city. For an initial assessment of a foreigner’s work permit eligibility, the current basic criteria of at least a bachelor’s degree and two years of relevant post-graduate work experience still apply. However, if a foreigner does not meet the basic criteria or is over the statutory retirement age, the foreigner may try to rely on other factors (such as annual salary amount, professional qualification, years of related work experience and working hours) to see whether they are qualified through another work permit category or under the score-based system."

Action Items

General Counsel for companies with foreign employees currently or potentially based in China should become familiar with, and periodically reconfirm, the actual rules and policies in effect in each relevant locality. Counsel also may wish to reserve additional lead time to obtain the relevant approvals and permits for their employees (or assist their employees in doing so), particularly during the transition to the new system.