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For full information about Chinese visa types, see ’’Visas and travel regulations’’ in our Visiting China section.

Under Chinese law, foreigners may only engage in paid work if they hold one of the following types of visa:

• Z visa - this allows the holder to work full-time for an employer in China or enter China as the accompanying family member of a Z visa holder. It is only issued to people formally taking up a paid position with a company or Chinese government agency.

• J visa - accredited journalists assigned to China for more than a year are issued with a J visa. J-2 visas are issued for short-term assignments.

• Diplomatic / service visa - For members of diplomatic missions, foreign governments or the United Nations.

In order to obtain a Z visa, a foreigner needs a visa notification issued by the inviting organization - a Chinese or foreign company, a school, a university, a Chinese government agency etc. If the entity is a company, it must have a specified minimum of registered capital and be authorized to employ foreigners. Applicants also need a work permit issued by the Labor Ministry or Foreign Expert Bureau. In order for an application for a work permit to be approved, the applicant needs to convince the Labor Ministry or Foreign Expert Bureau that (s)he holds the appropriate qualifications and has the required professional background. The applicant also has to pass a medical examination.

Only with visa notification and work permit in hand can the applicant approach the authorities for a resident’s permit and work visa.

Holders of F visas - issued for short-term purposes like giving a lecture, conducting research or carrying out business - are not allowed to do paid work under the conditions of the visa, except in the sense that carrying out business may be financially profitable.

Until the approach of the Olympics in 2008 led to a tightening up of visa regulations, the reality on the ground in China was considerably more relaxed than the letter of the law suggested. Large numbers of F and L (travel) visa holders were employed in one capacity or another - a situation that kept the wheels turning in a number of industries, including the English teaching sector, where many of the smaller schools were unable to meet the registered capital requirements that would have permitted them to issue visa notifications. Other areas that benefited from a loose interpretation of regulations on visas and work included bars, clubs and restaurants.
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