China Unified Work Authorization Policy: What You Need to Know

Becky Xia

A new unified work authorization policy for foreign workers has been piloted in key locations in China (including Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou) since October 2016, and will be implemented nationwide from 1 April 2017.

What Is This About?

The new policy aims to unify the work permit application process and target top talent from across the world while limiting the admission of general foreign workers in order to align with local labor market demands.

The new unified application system will classify foreign nationals into the following three categories through various criteria including a points-based system:

  • Category A for top talent  foreign nationals;
  • Category B for professionals talent;
  • Category C for general foreign workers who participate in seasonal or temporary work.

Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan applicants will remain unaffected by this new policy.

The central policy directive was issued with a framework for local authorities to work within to effect implementation. However, locations that have already implemented the new policy have done so at disparate paces and to varying degrees based on local circumstances.

As we approach the tail end of the six-month pilot period, the policy will be implemented throughout China starting on 1 April 2017 for all future applications.

What Does This Mean?

The new policy will have an impact on the application requirements, process and lead time, including:

  • classifying foreign nationals into three categories of workers;
  • standardizing the application requirements and process across China;
  • combining the Expert Certificate and Work Permit into one Work Permit Card for all foreign nationals moving forward;
  • moving to a centralized online system and database for all application types in China;
  • adding complexity and longer lead times to the application process; and
  • increasing visibility and compliance requirements over foreign workers.

The main purpose of the policy is to attract foreign talent that will contribute to China’s economic and social development strategies as the country shifts its focus to a knowledge and technology economy while aligning other foreign workers with local market demands and limiting the admission of general foreign workers to protect its local labor force.

The new policy also helps the Chinese government to have better control over the foreign worker population through the new centralized online government platform and with it, data sharing capabilities and data transparency across China.

With this objective in mind, the application process for different categories of foreign workers is different. For Category B and C  applicants, the total process including the document procurement time is expected to take approximately five to seven months or even longer and will be more complex compared to the previous work permit application process. Meanwhile, those who are classified as top talents (A category)  will benefit from a quicker process across China, with an average processing time of two to three months.

The same concept applies to documentation requirements, with Category A top talent applicants being able to file with fewer documents than required for Category B and C applicants.

The result of this policy is that those foreigners who are deemed critical talent for China will be able to come into the country more quickly than those who do not fall under this classification. Foreign workers whose skills are not deemed to be critical will experience a lengthier and more complicated application process post 1 April.

What This Means for Employers

The new policy will expand the scope of foreign workers in China, expanding the talent pool for companies looking to bring in skilled workers.

Under the new policy, employers should first review job candidates’ personal and professional backgrounds carefully to conduct an internal assessment on the possible appropriate category for the purpose of anticipating the relevant processing time for their work permit application.

All future applications will go through a centralized online system, through which different government organizations can share information and data about foreign workers sponsored within China. Therefore, it will be critical for companies to ensure compliance by their foreign national employees in order for companies to maintain good standing with the Chinese authorities.

What Happens Next

While the broad framework of the new policy is clear with regard to eligibility criteria, application requirements and supporting documentation, the exact on-the-ground implementation terms of the new work authorization application policy are unclear at this stage, and based on the pilot may differ according to location. What is certain, however, is that with 1 April around the corner, companies who have not yet prepared their key stakeholders for this change should do so as soon as possible. This will help companies manage internal expectations for their foreign hires and existing foreign staff and to ensure compliance with the new policy.

Fragomen expects that this period of uncertainty will continue well into 2017 and perhaps 2018 as each location adjusts and implements the new policy according to its own interpretation and at its own pace. For these reasons, it is vital for companies to stay in close contact with Fragomen to keep abreast of any further developments in this area.

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