China visa rumors abound, and it can be extremely difficult figuring out what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to Chinese visas. While rules change, the official websites listing them rarely do. Visa agents exist in a gray zone of varying legality, and can often accomplish things that individuals on their own cannot.We’ve gone through and run down some of the most common China visa myths and separated fact from fiction. As always, enforcement of these rules varies, and everything is subject to change.
Fiction: You can work on an F/L/Z visa
Many employers who cannot procure proper work visas for their employees will try and convince employees that it is legal to work on an F (business) visa, or promise to change an L visa to a Z visa and residence permit upon arrival in China.
Fact: It is illegal to work and receive a salary on any visa other than a Z visa with a proper residence permit. An F visa is intended for people who are in China temporarily on business trips, for conferences, or who are employed overseas and in China at the request of their company. If you are on a monthly salary and have a long term contract and get caught working on an F, or any other visa besides a Z with a residence permit, you could be subject to deportation and fines.
Fiction: You can change visa types without leaving China
Fact: While some employers are able to change your L visa to a Z visa (and get you a residence permit) from within the country, this practice, which used to be common pre-2008, is increasingly difficult. Many employers may even mistakenly assume that they can still change visa types within the country, only to be told otherwise when they try to do so. Some provinces are stricter than others, and will actually require a work visa to be obtained in one’s home country, which means a quick run to Hong Kong won’t do! If you are not in China yet and you plan on coming to China to work, make sure your employer gets you a Z visa before you leave. While your employer may not have bad intentions in asking you to come over on an L, it could end up in extra expense and hassle for you should you find that you need to make an unexpected run to Hong Kong, or worse, back home, in order to process your visa. You can change from an L to an F without leaving China but you will need the services of a visa agent to help you do so.
Fiction: Being married to a local gives you special visa privileges
Fact: While being married to a Chinese citizen will grant you the ability to apply for a year long visa, the visa type is still L (tourist), which means you’re not legally allowed to work on this visa. China is still a long ways off from giving foreign spouses the full benefits of permanent residency. In order to qualify for permanent residency by relationship to a Chinese citizen you must live in China as a tax payer, with a residence permit, for 5 years after marriage. Even if you meet these requirements, the Chinese government issues relatively few permanent residency cards and most of these tend to go to foreigners with financial ties to China rather than personal ties.
Fiction: Children born in China to Chinese and foreign parents can have dual citizenship
Fact: China actually does not recognize dual citizenship, and while some individuals have been able to keep their foreign citizenship under wraps and thus retain their Chinese passports, this is not officially legal. China considers all children born on Chinese soil to at least one Chinese parent to be Chinese citizens, and receiving a foreign passport changes nothing in the eyes of the Chinese government until that foreign passport is used for the first time. A child who was born in China with a foreign passport will have to get an exit permit to leave China. When the child uses his foreign passport for the first time this is considered an act of renouncing one’s Chinese citizenship, at which point when he comes back to China he’ll need a Chinese visa in his foreign passport.It is not recommended to obtain a Chinese passport and hukou for a child who intends to keep a foreign passport, as this could create hassles later on. The law regarding dual citizenship is very clear: China does not recognize it, so attempting some form of unrecognized dual citizenship is not advised.
Fiction: A Z visais a residence permit
Fact: A Z visa allows you to get into the country with the intention of working. Your Z visawill be converted to a residence permit only after you’ve arrived in China, and this should be done within 30 days. Many years ago a residence permit was a separate booklet that was not attached to your passport, which seemed to cause some confusion. Nowadays the residence permit is also a sticker in your passport. It allows you to work legally, enter and exit the country while you hold it, and even can entitle you to certain discounts on air fares that are for Chinese residents only.
Fiction: If I quit my job I’ll be black listed and unable to get a visa in the future
Fact: There’s little evidence that some sort of universal blacklist exists in China outside of people blacklisted for political and criminal reasons. While quitting your job may affect your reputation in the area where you work, it is unlikely that you’ll be completely barred from obtaining future visas unless your employer’s connections run incredibly deep. However, you will need a release letter from your previous employer stating that you are free to work for another company so that you can transfer and extend your visa. A release letter is not the same as a letter of recommendation and while schools and companies may try to withhold it out of spite, as long as you have not breached the contract it is something that they are required to give you. If you find yourself in a situation where you are battling over a release letter your best bet may be to exit the country(with a letter of invitation from your old employer) and start over again from scratch with a new visa rather than extending your old one. This sort of situation can be tricky and there’s often no one perfect solution when involved in a battle over a release letter with an uncooperative and vindictive former employer.
Fiction: If I have a criminal record, I can’t get in to China
Fact: Although China does have a box on the visa application form asking if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime, visa applicants have checked “yes” and still been issued a visa. The most common question seems to revolve around DUIs, and previous applicants have been advised to check yes, but to attach a document explaining the conviction. If you choose to check “no” the Chinese government cannot actually run a criminal background check on you without your permission (they have no way to access foreign country’s records, after all), but if you’ve been convicted of a serious or violent crime you should not be particularly surprised if your visa application is rejected either.
Fiction: If I overstay my visa I’ll be arrested
Fact: Overstaying your visa usually means fines and a swift deportation and nothing more serious. You can be charged up to 500 RMB for each day for a maximum of 30 days. While overstaying your visa is serious and should be avoided, you should leave the country as soon as you realize your visa has expired to avoid serious fines. If your visa is set to expire soon and you know you will not be able to leave the country in time you should try going to the entry/exit bureau of the city you are staying and pleading your case. The visa officers there will often give you a short extension on your visa in order to give you time to leave the country. While this method isn’t foolproof, it is worth a shot.
Fiction: There are absolutes when it comes to the enforcement of visa laws in China
Fact: While it is true that certain laws are on the books, enforcement of the laws in China can often be spotty, and two people in similar situations can end up with different results due to one person’s personal connections, the mood of a certain police officer on a certain day,differences between provincial interpretations of the law, relations between countries, and policy changes passed down from the central government. It is important to realize that nothing in China is written in stone and to be prepared in the event that your visa plans do not go as expected.