IHT/ NYT Coverage of China’s Visa and Lifestyle Changes

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 20:55
Posted in category Uncategorized

Andrew Jacobs has put together a 2 pager on China’s recent decision to tighten its visa policy called New rules for expats in China that he posted at IHT and NY Times.

I realize that this is the 5th post in a week on visas, but after reading the story I felt compelled to write another post because there are some things that need to be corrected ASAP.

Why correct an article? Well, because the slant of the article in essence is that the Chinese government is acting unfairly to the 250,000 foreigners living in Beijing. That they should have considered their needs before just restructuring the visa policy willy nilly:

The rules, which were introduced last week with no warning and little explanation, limit new visas to 30 days, making it difficult, if not impossible, for long-term residents to hold down jobs and maintain uncomplicated lives.

Actually, it has never been legal to work long term in China on an F Visa, and it was never meant to provide long-term residents the ability to open businesses, live in China on freelance, teach English, etc..

That was the purpose of the Z visa (now the resident + work permit combination)

But most of the fear and consternation has been prompted by the new visa rules, which have thousands of foreign residents scrambling for black market documents – or contemplating leaving. Residents who in the past could easily extend yearlong tourist or business visas have been instructed to reapply at Chinese embassies in their home countries; even if their applications are approved, officials are only giving out 30-day visas.

I understand that everyone got used to calling up a visa consultant who would put together a letter of invitation on our behalf for 900RMB, but does that mean that it was ever legal? Everyone in China knew that they were operating in the grey on this.

As for the inconvenience of having to return home, I would just direct you to speak any Chinese resident who has had to apply for a visa to visit the US to see what they go through.. and more importantly how that changed following 9/11 (i.e. when America used security as a reason to tighten their visa policies up)

The new visa rules come at a time of heightened tensions in Beijing and other cities, where public anger has been directed at Western governments and overseas news organizations seen as sympathetic to Tibetan independence.

Actually, these policies proceed all this, however I am sure they knew that nearly every writer in country is on a F Visa.. as acknowledged by Collin Crowell, the managing editor of City Weekend,

an English-language entertainment guide in Beijing, said the new requirements were causing panic among the magazine’s freelance writers.

My thoughts

For the sake of clarity, having an F visa does not give anyone the right to work long term in China. I believe the cut off was if you were in country 180 days a year, you had to be on a Z.

I have a lot of friends who are being impacted by this, and what makes it all the more sad is that some of them blame China for this. That somehow China has slighted them. That without foreigners China would not have attained…

That is the wrong attitude. Foreigners have been given a lot of room in China to do just about everything they want, and now that things are changing, it is like a collective temper tantrum is being thrown by some caught up in this.

It is a crappy situation all the way around for some, and I don’t mean to rub salt into the wound, but if you are here working and you are working for a company, then get on the Z visa. It really is that simple.

I know there are some people in startup mode, who have products that will bring real benefit to China… so your situation is more difficult, and you will probably have to go to HK on a monthly basis. But if you believe in your model, and you believe in China.. then you are not paying an expense, you are making an investment.

and no matter what,  remember that even if you must go to HK, going to HK is in itself much easier than how difficult our own governments have made it for Chinese people to visit our countries.

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12 Responses to “IHT/ NYT Coverage of China’s Visa and Lifestyle Changes”

  1. Nrupesh says:

    April 23rd, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    Totally agree with the view, the fact remains that even with the new visa restrictions it is still more difficult for asians to get into US/UK than for US/UK people to get into China.

  2. John Guise says:

    April 23rd, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Hi Rich

    I have to echo everything you said here. It is really not that difficult to get on Z visa if you qualify for and the documentation required isn’t that much either. It’s about half the amount of paper that my girlfriend submitted to apply for a 30-day tourist visa to visit Canada for my brother’s wedding (and she didn’t complain about it).


  3. hz says:

    April 23rd, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    I second (or third) that your comment is very fair and balanced. Appreciate the sympathy for what a Chinese has to face to go anywhere. I do think though the visa requirements are rather arbitrary and there is likely political motivation in addition to security ones to enforce the rules now.

  4. David says:

    April 24th, 2008 at 2:08 am

    So which Chinese ministry is the ‘go to’ for a fast letter of invitation?

  5. Rich says:

    April 24th, 2008 at 3:59 am

    David, for you it would be the ministry of Transportation, but we all know how fast they move ….


  6. David says:

    April 24th, 2008 at 5:02 am

    Have you actually seen a copy of an invitation letter from a ministry written for the purpose of an F Visa? If so, please post.

    I’ve asked my company’s public affairs folks in Beijing to look into this and for their view regarding how ministries are handling this. A nice perk of working for a large MNC. I’ll report back if I hear someting interesting.

    I imagine that 99% of business travelers to China expect to have zero contact with Chinese ministries — short of the immigration line at Pudong. Therefore, they will need to hunt down a ministry via their China network (formal and informal). Most of us are dealing with customers, partners, suppliers, consultants, bankers, etc., not government officials. The hunt could be challenging for some.

    Any thoughts on some obvious issues for the the ‘guanxi-less’ aspiring visitor:

    Is ANY govt official acceptable? Is there a list? Is there a ‘middleman’ or agency to cut the red tape?

    Are ministries creating a formal contact point for this? Is it a rubber stamp issue, or are they actually going to screen requests and refuse to write letters of invitation?

    Is there a form letter to be filled in? Or, do we just make it up and hope for the best.

    Should non-Chinese readers assume that their Chinese ministry invitation letter (in Chinese) is correct in all it’s details? Or, shold we expect ministries to write letters in English?

    Am I making this too complicated? Am I missing something?

    My Visa expires next month. What a nightmare.

  7. Rich says:

    April 24th, 2008 at 7:39 am

    David – I can see the fear in your eyes.

    Let me get someone who is better informed than I to look into this. I have a couple of “friends” who can provide some advice, but one problem is that there is still no official policy on this.

    So, it is not your questions that are complex… it is the currently lack of clarify that makes it complex.

    My suggestion is actually for you to get your GR person on the case. They have the best government relations, and I think you can throw your MNC name around and get a little clarity faster than me.

    I am not sure that there will ever be a designated ministry person to contact going forward. The hurdle seemed a bit odd to me actually, so let’s see what happens.

    I will let you know what I hear, and I expect that it will take several weeks before itis all “clearer”.

    In the meantime, I can tell you that a client of mine was able to get a multiple entry visa (30 day limit) from the states. So, I suggest going that route to start.

    hope that helps… hope that was clear ?

  8. Rich says:

    April 24th, 2008 at 8:54 am


    No doubt the rules are a bit arbitrary in how they have been enforced, but they have always been clear in terms of who qualified for what visa. The rule really have been black and white, but because enforcement was spotty a grey zone was available for a time ..

    Where it is important going forward is for some clarity to come to the process (as seen above in David’s comments). I expect that the hurdles will be kept high as China will leverage the fact that they do not have so many operating in the grey zone, and it will be much easier to monitor ongoing who is trying to fudge the system.


  9. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    April 25th, 2008 at 1:28 am

    It’s not just an Olympics clampdown, it’s to prevent people coming here, working illegally and not paying any taxes. The foreigners who are here but are not on Z visas and complaining about it are also usually the ones who do not have a Z visa because they are here and earning money without declaring individial income tax because they have not registered with the authorities. As China moves up the value chain it wants to stop that section of the foreign population abusing it’s hospitality and either make it hard for them to come here, or to get a Z visa and start to contribute to the Chinese society and economy like the rest of us. If you can’t afford to, or don’t want to pay tax in China then your days are now numbered. That should clean up a lot of the white trash, especially in Shanghai.

  10. Stephen says:

    April 25th, 2008 at 10:31 am

    It’s not just work visas that are affected. I have a train ticket to Beijing on the TransSiberian, but the embassy in Moscow (where I live) just stopped issuing tourist visas to non-Russian citizens. It seems to me like the enforcement is somewhat uneven at the embassy/consulate level, since I was told that I would be able to obtain a tourist visa from the cnosulate in London, even though I am an American.

  11. n1ce says:

    April 29th, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    “if you are here working and you are working for a company, then get on the Z visa. It really is that simple.”

    I believe you meant to say “It really is that F***ING MAFAN”

  12. Rich says:

    April 29th, 2008 at 11:44 pm


    Actually, I meant it is really that simple. Getting a Z visa in NOT difficult. Sure, you have to fly home, but the process can be completed by a PA or visa consultant over the course of 4-6 weeks.

    Not sure if you are from EU or US or Canada or Australia or SE Asia.. but I can tell you that those are significantly more difficult and require a lot more time and money than the reverse.

    But, I guess that by making it so easy that just means that China is trying to keep us foreigners out. Perhaps it is just better that we all go home instead and pursue the many opportunities that our home country provides instead.