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Expats Working in China

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2013

Permission to Work

After you have found, negotiated and successfully been accepted for a job, your employer must obtain a foreigners’ employment licence for you from the local Labour Bureau. Only then will you be able to apply for a Z (work) visa at your local Chinese embassy. Note that in some regions of China, you may be able to transfer your L (tourist) visa into a Z visa, at the discretion of the regional government.

Once you have obtained an appropriate visa and have arrived in China, you need to apply for a work permit, residence permit and health permit. Procedures for obtaining these documents also vary somewhat between the different Chinese regions. Your employer should take care of most of the bureaucracy involved in obtaining these permits.

The Government has started clamping down on illegal foreign workers, particularly those working on tourist and student visas. Things are different now from 2002, when the current author and his colleagues spent an afternoon in a Beijing police station for working on a tourist visa. Back then, a sweetener from their employer was sufficient to satisfy the authorities. The new prohibitions are more far-reaching. For example, it is now illegal to work:

Penalties for working illegally in China have also been increased under the new laws. You may be liable for a fine of RMB5,000 to RMB20,000, and, if your offence is deemed ‘serious’, you may also be detained for 5 to 15 days. On top of this, you may be given a deadline to leave China, or you may even be deported at your own expense and banned from China for one to ten years. Fines for employers of dubious foreign workers are heavier now too.


Working Conditions

Labour conditions for expats in China differ significantly, depending on whether you work for an international business based in China or for a Chinese-owned business - and even there, there are considerable differences from one employer to another. In particular, working conditions in factories (both Chinese-owned and those owned by international corporations) have been exposed to severe criticism by human rights organisations. On the other hand, several employers in the IT and communications sectors have been praised for the high working standards they offer.

International companies usually offer the same benefits to their employees as in Europe or North America. This means that employees can expect to receive similar salaries and benefits as they would if they worked in the West. International businesses often also offer additional benefits such as housing allowances, or paid trips home once or twice a year.

Expats working for Chinese companies are likely to get lower salaries than they would in comparable companies in Western countries. So, to avoid disappointment, make sure to get enough information on the salary and living costs in China prior to your move. For statistics on average salaries in China see the Statistics Bureau Report. Note also that each of the Chinese provinces sets its own minimum wage. These currently range between RMB10.50 and RMB15.20 per hour, depending on the province and type of work.

Aannual leave entitlements depend on the number of years worked. The law states that workers with 1-9 years of work experience are entitled to 5 working days, those with 10-19 years of work experience to 10 working days and those with 20 years and more to 15 working days of paid annual leave. In general, they also get to enjoy 10 statutory holidays and 3 days of marriage leave on their first wedding.

In case of sickness, employees are entitled to sick leave, paid at 60-100% of daily wages, depending on the number of years worked for the company. The exact length of the sick leave differs from province to province, but the minimum sick leave entitlement is three months. Mothers are generally allowed to take a 98-day paid maternity leave, and are entitled to return to their job after the leave period ends. Paternity leave differs according to province and ranges between 3 and 30 days. See also Special Provisions for Protection of Female Workers.

This page gives details on the working conditions, and immigration procedures necessary to obtain work in China. For more information about working in China, see our Employment and Business articles.




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