Unified work permit for foreigners on way

Foreigners who come to China to work will soon get a unified work permit, as the country tries to streamline the process and improve efficiency to attract more skilled foreign talent.

The reform will combine China’s two current foreigner work permits into one.

A trial will get underway in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin municipalities as well as in Hebei, Anhui, Shandong, Guangdong and Sichuan provinces and the Ningxia Hui autonomous region beginning in October, according to the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, which is leading the reform. The reform will be implemented nationwide in April, the administration said.

“The unification eliminates the replicated application hurdle and improves communication, aiming to better serve overseas talent coming to work in China,” Zhang Jianguo, head of the administration, said on Thursday at a seminar in Tianjin.

Under the current system, foreigners can apply for either of two types of work permit-an employment license for foreigners issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, or a foreign expert work permit provided by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs.

“Legally, it is pretty hard to tell which category an applicant belongs to,” said Liu Guofu, a professor of immigration law at the Beijing Institute of Technology.

“For example, if a foreign specialist from Microsoft applies for a work permit in China, is he an expert or not? ” Liu said, adding that the current rule can be confusing for foreigners.

Liu said a single work permit is commonly used in most developed countries for global talent recruitment. “The old rule is more likely a product of a planned economy, and the new one is market-driven,” he said.