If you are a foreigner working in China, or any other country for that matter, having a valid work permit is not just nice, but essential. Illegally working in a foreign country can get you in some deep trouble. Having a work permit in China and the correct documentation is crucial and must always be attained before you even work here.
It’s important to remember that your work permit will be directly tied to your employer and the exact job you are performing, so any change in job or company means you need a new work permit to reflect it. You will need to cancel your permit from your previous employer before you can even start (re)applying for a new work permit for your new job.
It can take around 4 to 6 weeks to transfer your current work permit to your new job, but in some cases, it can take up to 12 weeks. It’s important to understand how lengthy the process can be so you can prepare properly beforehand. It’s in your old employer’s best interests that your work permit transfer runs as smoothly as possible so as not to expose themselves to potential labor disputes that can arise with departing workers.
Departing workers transferring their work permits can get rejected by the authorities if the proper procedures are not followed. The dispute could be that the former employee blamed the previous employer for the rejection of the transfer. For employers, it might be the best strategy to hire a professional third party to assist in the transfer and management of the process to reduce their own exposure and possible disputes that could damage their reputation.
Check out our step-by-step guide to transferring your Chinese work permit from your old job to your new job.
Step-1: Get a New Job Offer from a Potential Employer
If you already have a residence and work permit with your current employer but you are looking for a new job, keep on good terms with your current employer. The reason why will become apparent much later. Now let’s just talk like you already have a new job or even a new job offer. You need to understand that you cannot work for both companies at the same time.
You won’t be able to work for the new company yet because your work permit is tied to your original employer. You will not be able to work in your new job until your work permit is tied to your new employer under Chinese labor laws. Some people do decide to work for their new company anyway before the permit transfer as the rule is not strictly followed, but in the eyes of the law, we would not recommend you do that.
Step-2: Resigning from Your Old Job
It can take from a week to a month to be able to quit your old job from the moment you tender your resignation. So make sure you check the exact resignation period on your employment contract. Just remember that you won’t receive any compensation from your old employer because it is YOU who willingly resigned instead of being laid off or made redundant by the company.
A good way to ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible would be to invite the HR representatives of your old and new companies into a WeChat group to discuss the issue together. They will need to come together anyway so they can coordinate all the dates for the release letter and create the new employment contract. If the dates happen to be out of kilter with each other, it might make the government get involved, and everyone can do without that.
Step-3: Cancelling Your Work Permit
You will be expected to sign a resignation letter from your old company and that form is called the “APPLICATION FORM FOR CANCELLATION OF FOREIGNER’S WORK PERMIT”. There is also a second document you will have to sign that is more of a “memorandum of labor relations” and that form will officially state that you are no longer employed at that company. You will need to sign both forms and get them stamped in the original. To get that done, you have to go to either your old company or get them delivered after you have signed them first.
The first document we mentioned has to then be submitted for approval, and this needs to be canceled directly by the government. Once your work permit is canceled by the government, which they have to do, you will then need to send it to the Entry-Exit Administration Service Center to be deprogrammed. And although it might sound like something from George Orwell’s 1984, it only takes a few days. While this process is happening, you won’t be able to work in China at all.
Step-4: Getting a Release Letter
Now you’ve been “reprogrammed”, your previous company will receive a release letter from the government, which is officially called the “Foreigner’s Work Permit Cancellation Certificate”. If you do happen to have a bad relationship with your previous employer, this is where it can get messy. Your old employer could decide to hold the release letter as a ransom against you. But let’s assume that your relationship is not bad, the HR representative from your new company should get this letter (after it has been signed and stamped) and can now start the procedure to apply or reapply for your new work permit.
Step-5: Reapplying or Applying for a New Work Permit
Now you need to reapply for a work permit. And you can do that with a letter that is very similar if not identical to the one you used when originally applying for a work permit. You can start this off by performing an online application that will probably be sorted by the HR rep from your new firm. There is also a chance you will need to provide digital copies of your original health check reports that you used when you first applied for your work permit. You might even have to take a new test and have background checks for academic proof or criminal records. You might also need a new passport photo, so make sure you have everything on hand.
At this point of the process, your new HR person might find out a couple of different things:
- Your new job position might be different from your old job title and description.
- That your new job position and title can’t be different from your old job description.
Chinese labor laws state that your original work permit is only viable if the new position is the same type of job as in the original permit. There is some flexibility for sure, but not loads. For example, if you were working as a copywriter in your original work permit, you now cannot work as a business manager and keep the same permit. The Chinese government will not approve this.
There are some ways around this to fix the solution, and the main one is to slightly adjust the new contract to be more in line with your original contract. If you can or cannot do this will depend on the HR department, not you. It shouldn’t be much of an issue either way for companies that have many foreign workers, as they will already have a solution in place.
Once your online application is now approved, you will need to apply down at the Entry-Exit Administration Service Center. However, you won’t have to personally apply as it’s the role of the HR rep to do this. It can take up to 10 days to receive your new work permit, but by now it’s not a big deal. There is a good chance you will get the permit back a bit earlier than the stated duration.
Step-6: Picking Up Your New Work Permit
Once again, when your work permit is ready to collect, your HR rep will do it for you. HR staff really are angelic-like creatures that don’t get the credit they deserve for dealing with foreign workers in China.
When you check your new work permit for the first time, you will surprisingly see it’s the same one from before with the same ID number, picture, grade.
After the new work permit has been obtained from the Foreign Expert Bureau an application for a new residence permit needs to be made at the Exit and Entry Bureau.
The transfer of your work permit is not such a difficult process after all. It’s relatively easy when compared to some other issues foreigners working in China encounter. If you already had an original work permit that was approved by the Chinese government, you won’t have to go through the entire process from the beginning just because you changed your job and/or company. You are already in the system, so it’s just a case of reapplying once you have canceled your permit with your old employer.
You might have to encourage a positive relationship between the HR department of your old company and your new one, and barring any sour relationships, it should be a painless experience that is completed quickly so you can get on with your new job.