Shanghai – major changes in work permit process

China’s new nation-wide standardized work permit system is slated for implementation across the country on April 1 2017. Shanghai has perhaps the most sophisticated immigration and work authorization process in China.

Shanghai – major changes in work permit process
While the pilot program has been ongoing in seven provinces since November, China’s new nation-wide standardized work permit system is slated for implementation across the country on April 1. Shanghai, one of the initial seven pilot provinces, has announced numerous process changes – including a temporary pause on application processing – to prepare for the final roll-out. As home to China’s largest expatriate population, Pro-Link GLOBAL takes this opportunity to focus on the coming changes and the state of the work authorization process in Shanghai.

Shanghai: Expat population and immigration system

China’s most populous and international city, Shanghai is home to the country’s largest number of foreign nationals, with up to 300,000 of China’s estimated 850,000 working expats residing in the city. It’s diverse and rapidly expanding economy reportedly attracts highly skilled foreign nationals from more than 200 countries. More than 50 Fortune 500 companies have their world or regional headquarters in this strategically-located coastal city. While known around the world as mainland China’s banking and investment center, Shanghai also boasts a large manufacturing sector, accounting for around 40 percent of its regional GDP, and the world’s busiest shipping container port. Increasingly, government and industry leaders are turning their sights on attracting the world’s brightest tech talent and making Shanghai the technology innovation center of China as well.As a result, Shanghai has perhaps the most sophisticated immigration and work authorization processes among the Chinese provinces. Shanghai has traditionally been at the forefront of reforming China’s oftentimes overly-bureaucratic immigration system in an effort to better attract and accommodate foreign talent. So it comes as no surprise as we approach the April 1 implementation date for China’s new nation-wide work permit system, that Shanghai is at the forefront of the roll-out with numerous changes being announced right now. For an in-depth look at China’s new work permits system – with detailed process steps, estimated processing times, and an outline of the new points-based criteria – download our free e-book here.

What's changing?

There are several changes to current work authorization and entry visa processes happening in the next two weeks of which companies employing foreign nationals in Shanghai should be aware. Pro-Link GLOBAL regrets that some of the below guidance may be less than crystal clear, as the Shanghai authorities are still in the process of ironing-out the details; but we wanted to get this important information out to companies as soon as possible to anticipate the coming changes. Pro-Link GLOBAL’s Shanghai office is currently liaising with Chinese officials to obtain further guidance on the revised processes as soon as it is released. Please watch for our future alerts, as we anticipate updating the below initial information over the coming weeks.
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Temporary suspension of work authorization processing

Starting March 24, the Shanghai Labor Bureau and the State Administration of Foreign Affairs’ (SAFEA) Foreign Expert Bureau are temporarily suspending all submission of work authorization applications. The pause is purportedly so that authorities may complete the transition of work authorization processing from the Labor Bureau to the SAFEA Foreign Expert Bureau by establishing new procedures ahead of the April 1 full implementation of the nation-wide work permits system.Companies anticipating a need to file work authorization applications from March 24 to April 1, should reach out to their Pro-Link GLOBAL Immigration Specialists immediately so that they minimize any potential inconvenience or delay.

Application processing to transition from Labour Bureau to SAFEA Foreign Expert Bureau

It is expected that, after March 24, the Shanghai Labour Bureau will no longer accept applications for Alien Work Permits or Employment Licenses. This is in keeping with the transition over to the new nation-wide standardized Foreigner’s Work Permit.Shanghai has been involved in the pilot program of the new system since November 1, and the nationwide roll-out is still slated for April 1. During the pilot program, Shanghai operated in somewhat of a hybrid process with the new system operating in tandem with aspects of the old system. Starting April 1, however, it is anticipated that the only agency issuing work authorizations in Shanghai will be the SAFEA Foreign Expert Bureau. Initial applications will likely only be accepted through the new online process. While, for a time, work authorizations may still take the form of any of the new Foreigner’s Work Permits, Alien Work Permits, or Employment Licenses, it is anticipated that eventually all work authorizations will take the form of the new nation-wide standard Foreigner’s Work Permit.As for submissions for renewals, amendments, and cancellation of work authorizations, however, the situation is less clear. The new online work permits system does not currently have the functionality to accept submissions other than initial applications. Hopefully, during the momentary pause in processing and the focus on the transition, authorities will have the opportunity to incorporate these crucial functions. Pro-Link GLOBAL continues to monitor this issue closely and looks forward to reporting on its resolution soon. In the meantime, for immediate renewal, amendment and cancellation needs, be sure to reach out to you Pro-Link GLOBAL Immigration Specialist for guidance.

End of informal preferential route – formal procedures to be confirmed

In the past, some companies and in-demand foreign nationals in Shanghai informally received a type of preferred processing where the foreign national was permitted to enter China using any entry visa and apply for work authorization once already in-country. With the new nation-wide standardized system being formally implemented April 1, this will reportedly no longer be an option and companies should not rely on this informal route. Rather, companies should anticipate following the below process steps:
  1. Notification Letter of Foreigner’s Work Permit Application – filed online and then in hard copy with SAFEA Foreign Expert Bureau;
  2. Employment-Based Entry Visa (Z Visa) – filed with Chinese overseas consular post in employee’s home country;
  3. Employee Arrives in China; and
  4. Finalization of Employee Post-Arrival Immigration Procedures – including residence registration, finalization of Foreigner’s Work Permit, and obtainment of Residence Permit.
Note, however, that the above process steps have yet to be completely implemented by the Shanghai authorities and are still subject to change. Once the official procedures are announced, we will provide a more complete update with the finalized details.

How these changes affect you

As Pro-Link GLOBAL has reported previously, we are enthusiastic about the prospects of a more streamlined, nation-wide online work permit system in China. In the long run, it has the potential of major benefits for companies and their foreign employees with easier application submission, reduced document requirements, and faster permit issuance. However, we remain realistic that implementing such a system is a huge undertaking, especially in a nation the size of China with its entrenched bureaucratic institutions.Pro-Link GLOBAL advises companies to be patient through this transition period, try to anticipate business needs as far in advance as possible, and maintain regular communication with your Chinese Immigration Specialists. As of this writing, the changes continue to be announced affecting the immigration and work authorization processes in Shanghai. Please continue to read our future alerts as we endeavor to keep our clients on top of the fast-changing international business and corporate immigration environment in China.Caveat Lector | Warning to Reader This is provided as informational only and does not substitute for actual legal advice based on the specific circumstances of a matter. We would like to remind you that Immigration laws are fluid and can change at a moment's notice without any warning. Please reach out to your immigration specialist or your client relations manager at Pro-Link GLOBAL should you require any additional clarification. This alert was prepared by your Pro-Link GLOBAL Knowledge Management Team and your Pro-Link GLOBAL China Immigration Team in our Shanghai office.Information contained in this Global Brief is prepared using information obtained from various media outlets, government publications and our KGNM immigration professionals. Written permission from the copyright owner and any other rights holders must be obtained for any reuse of any content posted or published by Pro-Link GLOBAL that extends beyond fair use or other statutory exemptions. Furthermore, responsibility for the determination of the copyright status and securing permission rests with those persons wishing to reuse the materials. Interested parties are welcome to contact the Knowledge Management Department ( with any additional requests for information or to request reproduction of this material. 

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