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Immigration Law in China: the main types of Entry Visas

The regulations governing the entry of foreign nationals into China and the issuance of entry visas.

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The “Decree of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China No. 637″ establishes the procedures on the basis of which the various provinces of the People’s Republic of China determines the entry of foreign nationals into the country. Under the direct control of the Central Government, the various provinces and administrations decide what provisions to implement in order to facilitate international cooperation through the entry of foreign nationals.

Categories of Entry Visas in China

Article 6 of Decree no. 637 lists the main types of Chinese Visas, divided based on the intended activities.

C Visa

For crew members performing duties on board an international train, aircraft or vessel.

D Visa

For people coming to China for permanent residence.

F Visa

For exchanges, visits, study tours.

G Visa

For transit only through China.

J Visa for Journalists

This kind of Visa is further divided into 2 types:

  • J1 Visa: For resident foreign journalists;
  • J2 Visa: For foreign journalists who come to China for short-term news coverage.

L Visa

For people who come for travel purposes (tourism visa).

M Visa

For people coming to China for commercial trade activities (business).

Q Visa

The Q Visa is issued in case of family reunion or short-term visits. There are 2 types of Chinese Q Visas:

  • Q1 visa: issued to family members of Chinese citizens and family members of foreigners with permanent residence status in China who apply for residence in China for family reunion;
  • Q2 visa: it is for relatives of Chinese citizens living in China, or relatives of foreigners with permanent residence status in China, who apply for a short-term visit.

R Visa

For foreigners of high talent or specialists needed by the country.

S Visa

The S Visa is issued to relatives and family members of foreigners who reside in China for various reasons. There are 2 types of Chinese S Visas:

  • S1 Visa: issued to the spouses, parents, children under the age of 18 or parents-in-law of foreigners residing in China for work, study or other purposes who apply for a long-term visit to China;
  • S2 Visa: issued to family members of foreigners staying or residing in China for work, study or other purposes who apply for a short-term visit to China.

Please keep in mind that the S Visa is different from the Q Visa, as the former is dedicated to family members or relatives of Foreigners residing in China, not for Chinese residents (Q Visa).

X Visa to Study in China

This Visa is issued to applicants willing to study in China, and is divided in 2 types:

  • X1 visa: issued for long-term study in China;
  • X2 visa: issued for short-term study in China.

Z Visa to work in China

This Visa is necessary for those who are applying for work in China.

How to apply for a Chinese Entry Visa

Foreign nationals who intend to travel to China for the above listed reasons should apply for an appropriate Visa at the Chinese diplomatic mission in their residence country.

Keep in mind that depending on the type of visa, different documents are required.

For visa applications at the Chinese consular missions abroad, certain documents are always required, such as: passport, visa application form and a passport photo.

Other documents, however, change depending on the type of visa being applied for. For instance, for the M visa for commercial and business activities, an invitation letter from the inviting entity in China is required. The F visa requires the applicant to submit an invitation letter provided by the inviting party in China. For the G visa, the applicant shall submit a transit ticket (air, road, rail or sea) to another country or region with the date and seat number on it.

Chinese consulates abroad usually require visa application documents to be delivered in advance so that they can be thoroughly checked.

If applicants have previously been fingerprinted at the consulate, their presence at the Consulate may not be necessary.

If, on the other hand, the fingerprints have never been deposited at a Chinese consulate, the applicant is likely to receive an invitation for fingerprintings and an interview with the consul.

Single, double and multiple Chinese entry visas

Through the visa application form, the applicant can choose the type of visa needed and the desired number of entries:

  • Single: valid for only one entry into the country in a given period of time;
  • Double: valid for two entries into the country in a given period of time;
  • Multiple: valid for more entries into the country in a given period of time.

It should be noted that the approval of the requests pointed out on the visa application form always remains at the discretion of the Chinese diplomatic authorities.

Duration of each Chinese entry visas

After the visa collection, it is important to consider its duration. In addition to the number of entries, the consulate also decides the time frame in which the visa remains valid and can be used. Foreign nationals can only use the visa and travel to China within that duration.

In most cases, a single-entry visa is valid for 30 days, while a multiple-entry visa is valid for 180 days. It is important to remember that this is not the rule and that the duration is also at consular discretion.

Only in some cases it is possible to extend the validity of the visa from China, without having to return to one’s country of origin. It is necessary to check this possibility in advance with the local immigration authorities.

If the above is not possible, foreign nationals must return to their home country and apply for a new visa.

Violation of the rules of stay may carry high penalties. In the most serious cases, foreigners may be expelled from China, with a ban on returning.

Working in China: the Chinese Business Visa Vs. Z Visa

For those who need to travel to China to carry out business and trade negotiations, the indicated visa is the M type.

This visa does not allow to conduct work activities in China, but only to travel to the country following an invitation from a local entity to:

  • attend meetings or audits;
  • negotiate with local clients;
  • attend trade fairs or events.

Release of Chinese Business Visa after the pandemic

Following the pandemic, chinese consular posts issue business visas valid for one entry only. The visa validity always remains at consular discretion. In general, the documents required to apply for a Business M Visa are:

  • Original passport valid for 6 months;
  • Visa application form;
  • Privacy Form;
  • Letter from the Chinese inviting firm, in English or Chinese, duly signed;
  • Green Pass copy;
  • Flight reservation;
  • Letter of assignment.

The visa is issued in 7 to 10 working days from the filing of documentation or from the consular interview.

Activities in China with a Z Visa

The Z visa is for foreign nationals traveling to China for work reasons, following employment with a local entity.

Before being able to apply for a China Work Visa (Z-Visa) at a Chinese embassy abroad, applicants shall first get the Notification Letter for Foreigner’s Work Permit (Notification Letter). The Notification Letter is an official letter from Chinese Authorities, confirming that an applicant has been approved to work in China.

Applicants can enter China only after getting the Z-Visa. They also have to undertake a medical examination and register their residence at the local police station.

As a last step, applicants will replace the Z-visa with a Residence Permit for working purposes, in order to apply for a Work Permit.

The documents that must be provided to obtain a Work Permit may change depending on the case and according to the Chinese province where the application is made.

How to get the Chinese Notification Letter

To get the Notification Letter, the employer has to apply for it by providing the required documentation to a local Labor Bureau. It takes around 3-4 weeks to obtain the Notification Letter. Then, applicants may apply for a Z Work Visa at the Chinese embassy in their home country.

Required documents from the Employee

  • Diploma or study title duly legalized;
  • Police Clearance Certificate duly legalized;
  • Work Experience Certificate justifying at least 24 months of experience;
  • CV;
  • Labor Contract;
  • Medical Report.

Required documents from the Employer

  • Business License (+ Certificate of Approval if any);
  • Passport of the Legal Representative.

How many types of Chinese Work Permits

It is important to note that Work Permits fall into three different categories:

  • A = high-level experts
  • B = professional workers
  • C = low skilled workers

The timelines for obtaining the notification letter, the Z visa abroad, the Work Permit and the Residence Permit, are about 45 days in total.

Who is exempted from applying for a Chinese Visa

China has made agreements with some countries for the purpose of allowing visa-free entry. This mainly applies for people working for the government, and their stay cannot be longer than 30 days.

The exemptions are reserved for:

  • Diplomatic, service or officer passport holders;
  • Citizens of Singapore, the Sultanate of Brunei or Japan;
  • Holders of a Residence Permit (for those who have obtained a Z, J1, X1 or D visa);
  • Holders of Business Travel Card.

UPDATE: Starting from December 1st 2023, up to November 30th 2024, Italian, French, German, Dutch, Spanish and Malaysian citizens in possession of an ordinary passport will be able to travel to China without the need to apply for an entry visa.  This applies only for specific travel purposes.

The Chinese PU Letter

The Chinese PU Letter is a visa requirement imposed by the Chinese Government during the covid-19 pandemic.

As of today, the Chinese PU Letter is partially mandatory for a limited number of Chinese Visas. In fact, the Z Visa type to work in China requires a PU Letter or, alternatively, a Work Permit from China.

On the other hand, the PU Letter is no longer needed for M Visa types.

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Regulatory Framework

Decree of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China No. 637


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