In the past, China had opened its doors wide to many foreign nationals wishing to conduct business operations in China and contribute to its thriving economy. Foreign nationals have enjoyed obtaining relevant visas that allowed them to freely engage in business activities without many restrictions. This all changed following the emergence of COVID-19, forcing China to take drastic measures to control the virus, one of which was to temporarily prohibit most foreigners from entering China. However, to say that all foreigners have been barred from coming to the country would be adopting a rather simplistic interpretation of the notice. The Chinese government understands the impact of such a bold regulation on the economy, as well as on both Chinese and foreign nationals, thus has been continuously making various efforts to gradually welcome back foreign nationals and restart the economy. Many of the new notices and policy changes concern foreign nationals and visa issuance.
This article will cover the following:
- The current visa policy
- Normal Channel
- Fast-track channel
The current visa policy
Whilst the notice by Ministry of Foreign Affairs prohibits most foreigners from entering China, it does not impact those holding diplomatic, service, courtesy or C visas, and allows those who hold a visa granted after the notice to enter China. Moreover, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Shanghai Municipality Government have issued several subsequent measures introduced to allow the entry of “essential” employees.
The authorities will consider, amongst other things, the essentiality and the business need for the employee to enter China when determining whether the application can be processed through the normal channel or the fast-track channel. The fast-track route is only accessible to employees of the companies whose country of origin has signed a fast-track agreement with China. The precise details of such a system are yet to be made fully clear. So far, we know that foreign entrants will be required to show proof of no infection prior to travelling.
The normal channel visa application involves the following steps:
- The company must apply for the employee’s return to a district-level Foreign Affairs Office, or the municipal-level authority.
- The district Foreign Affairs Office will examine the application and after determining the employee to be essential to business operation, it will forward the application to the province-level office and send the applicant’s company a notification.
- The province-level office will review the application and then issue a visa notification to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the relevant Chinese embassy in the employee’s country, whilst also sending a hard copy of the notification to the company.
- The company must send the notification copy electronically either through fax or scan, allowing the employee to submit it to the Chinese embassy for review.
- After obtaining the visa, the employee may proceed to taking a flight to China.
- Upon arrival, the customs officials will screen all the passengers on the plane and conduct relevant health & safety procedures to ensure no passengers are infected or a pose risk. This will include undertaking a nucleic acid test, the results of which usually take 24 hours.
- If the test results show “positive”, the employee will be taken to the relevant establishments for medical observation and treatment.
- If the test results show “negative”, the employee will be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine at a designated facility, which will be paid for by the employee or his/her company.
As the name implies, the fast-track channel is comparatively quicker as it allows the employee to enter China without being placed under government quarantine, however, it is limited to employees of companies whose country of origin has signed the fast-track agreement with China. As of the time of writing, such countries are UK, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, France and Germany.
Applicants going through this route may qualify for immediate immigration clearance at one of the “fast-lanes” which include Shanghai, Beijing, Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shandong, and Tianjin.
The fast-track channel involves the following steps:
- The company must apply to the province-level Foreign Affairs Office of the district or the city it is located in. It must explain the reasons the employee’s return to China is essential for its business operations, and detail the steps by the following requirements:
- Prevention & control measures must be adopted regarding the employee’s residence. S/he cannot live in a residential compound and must not share a bathroom with other individuals.
- There must be a designated car and driver to take the employee to and from work.
- There must be safety measures adopted to avoid contamination.
Visa expiration during Prevention & Control period
Individuals already in China with their visa nearing expiration need not to worry. The latest policies state that foreign nationals present in China, whose visa will expire during the period of prevention and control, will enjoy an automatic extension without having to undergo the usual extension procedures. The exact length of the prevention and control period, however, is not yet specified and the regulation will remain effective for the foreseeable future until further notice.
These are the policies at present and the exact procedures may differ on a case-by-case basis. It is likely that there will be further measures introduced in the future to make it easier for foreigners to enter China, so keep an eye out for new updates.
Please keep in mind this article highlights the most recent visa policies at the time of writing (2020/06/19), however, many changes are being introduced regularly, therefore, this information may not be fully applicable at the time of reading.