Some interesting developments with China visas this last month.

First the good news. The Shanghai Exit-Entry Administration Bureau has launched an English-language website for visa renewals and I checked it out and it is not bad at all (h/t to Shanghaiist).

Now the bad news. I have received three rather troubling visa related calls in the last month or so. Two of them were from people who had been caught working in China without a work visa (Z visa) and both of them were subsequently denied re-entry visas to China. Both of these people should have set up companies in China but had not done so in order to cut costs and avoid paying taxes. The other person was an employee with a state government in the United States, while vacationing in China was reading up on China cyber hacking and is now convinced that the Chinese government took his laptop at some point when he left his hotel room and then followed him while in China.

The first two people wanted us to call the Chinese Embassy and get them visas and the third person wanted us to do the same, but to tell them that he is not really a spy, rather just a low state government employee with an interest in computers. I told all three that a phone call from an American lawyer would likely have zero effect and that they could better spend their money elsewhere. All three really want to return to China (the first two pretty much need to return to China), but in my experience, once China has put you on a no entry list, it is pretty much impossible to get off it. The government employee is rightfully concerned about returning to China at all and my advice was that he consider vacationing elsewhere the next time.

All three of these people talked about the possibility of “just paying someone off” in China but I explained how that was a bad idea because even trying to do so would put them at risk of getting charged criminally in either China or the United States and that there would be a very good chance that the payment would not work in any event.

Anyone else experience or know of something similar?

UPDATE:  A number of people have asked what it was that caused these two people to get caught working in China without a work visa. One of the callers told me he was convinced that he had been reported to the authorities by an employee he had fired a few weeks earlier. The other guy did not tell me and I did not ask. In my experience, these things are about 99% of the time due either to an ex-employee who is angry about having been fired and left without a real company to sue or by an existing employee who has decided that the foreigner is no longer needed and that he or she is now ready to take over the company.

  • Leon

    I think you can get off the no entry list by spending money… I don’t know how much money, and I suspect that will become harder and harder. I worked with an English teacher who was arrested for using marijuana, who was then jailed for a week before being deported. In less than six months he was back in China, but not living in the same province. He claims he paid off the police. Unfortunately that’s all I know…

  • Intuitively, the state government employee is right. In fact, if you’re a government or industry employee at any appreciable level bringing a laptop to China and staying in a hotel, to leave it unattended for even 10 minutes is asking for it to be unlawfully (not that China gives a damn about that) accessed. This really is a no-brainer.

  • I’m a 65-yr old exec “employed” by our Shanghai distributor. Recently applied for the third renewal of my work permit but was unexpectedly denied because I am “over the mandatory retirement age of 60 and therefore not eligible.” Think it was a “one off” and not a policy change, but…?

  • Wang Jia Hong

    Don’t work in China without a work permit. Otherwise you’re evading income tax. Sounds straight forward to me. And it’s how you Americans treat people found working illegally in the US. What makes you think you should be able to break Chinas visa laws?

  • William

    The Chinese Embassy in the US (and probably elsewhere) has adopted a new visa application form as of January which is much longer and which asks much more invasive questions. I’m sorry to see that they’re making the visa process more unpleasant; I’m not too keen to give the Chinese government any more personal information than is absolutely necessary.

  • anon this time

    If you can mention them, what were the details surrounding those caught? Were they on expired visas? Were they “in transit”, meaning getting all their stuff together for jobs that would issue them visas? I know that most foreign workers in China are ESL Instructors, some of them employed by schools that expect teachers to work while their paperwork is being processed.
    If they were working sans visa and with no plan to secure one, then I cannot really see this as troubling. I think that China’s adhering to a US style policy on undocumented workers would be a huge mistake, and China’s visa policy for lower and mid-level foreign workers is still much, much better than those of Japan and (especially) South Korea. This is an area in which China deserves more credit – or less criticism.
    Several years ago I (twice) went to renew my visa late, both times the experience was absolutely benign and the visa officials were very forgiving. I was only about a week over, and I realize things have changed a lot since the mid 00’s, but China is doing pretty well given the sheer number of visa scofflaws doing any number of things within their borders.
    You should expect an unattended laptop to be read if you are of absolutely any relation to a US government agency.

  • Why does the case of the first two mean that China visas got tougher (or do you intend to say that China actually following its laws – such as, no work without Z visa – *is* tougher), and where is the third person’s connection to visa issues? Has he been thrown out and/or denied re-entry?

  • Andeli

    This sounds almost anecdotal. I do believe it though. I Think 🙂
    On the issue of not getting back into China again, then individuals who broke VISA regulatives are, after what I have seen, barred from re-entry somewhere between 1 to 5 years. Depending on the case. Not forever as you somewhat imply.
    I think one has to very sure what one does on a F or L Visa in China. It is never a good idea to receive money or payment in any form. It is not a good idea to hire employees and rent business locations based on an F or an L VISA, as there will be problems down the road, that may acquire a legal status. It is never good to stay too long at a time (no more then 3 months) in China, so a non Z – VISA should be renewed in one’s own country. If one follows these simple rules then there is no reason to worry I would think.
    I would like to know how these individuals got detained? As it is my impression that these kinds of violations do not rank very high on the to do list of the local police stations. Did they have disputes prior to their VISA problems? And how did they leave China? I am thinking that the “I was working without a Z-VISA so I got kicked out” is an excuse for something else gone bad, but who knows. And if this is true then not calling an embassy oneself and not showing up in person sounds really strange to me. They should find a Chinese speaking lawer and then show up and ask about their cases.

  • Mike

    What?! How common is it that people are caught working illegally in China? What about all those maids, teachers etc who are there on tourist visas and more? Serious question. Because I am myself in Thailand, where becoming legal worker is quite hard as the work permits are much more difficult to obtain than in China and on the other hand every newspaper and website runs plenty of open ads for “visa runs” to get back-to-back tourist visas. And no one blinks their eye. Interesting difference. Maybe it is indeed because in China you should obtain legal status as it is so much easier than in Thailand….

  • William

    I, too, am curious about the circumstances under which the first two people were “caught.”

  • James

    I’d really like to know more details about how these people were caught. The first two specifically. For example the US has tons of people working there from Canada on regular entry stamps, without a proper visa but they’re doing “consulting” for Canadian companies, and fine doing so. However the moment you say you’re working for a US entity and receiving money from one, you will be kicked out or denied entry. I’ve had a family member barred from entry and put on a blacklist simply for telling a customs officer she was going to babysit for friends.
    My main question is, how was it provable that these people were in fact working? Were they taking a paycheck from a Chinese company? Was the paycheck cash, or was it direct deposit into the bank? Was it because they were going in to an office everyday dressed in a suit?
    Concerning re-entry, the best way is simply to get a new passport, and thus a new passport number, being that is the only way the Chinese government really tracks foreigners. Once they have this they should be free to return without worrying about a black list. Then they should focus on getting a proper visa this time around.

  • Mike

    I haven’t experienced getting Z-visa is easier or harder, same as always. You need some (still relatively little) meaningless paperwork, hop on one leg while touching your nose and sing, but then you get your sticker and all is well again until next year. Only the leg changes occasionally.
    I’ve also found there’s the usual flexibility (nag and you shall receive) that you wouldn’t get anyplace else. For example, last time getting my Z sticker, the grumpy woman said that I couldn’t get a one year sticker because the company I work for was too small: “Poop…!” ….was what we said, after “Garbage!” didn’t seem to work, said that company capital or lack thereof doesn’t matter, she made some noncommittal grunting noise, we then said we got seven one-year stickers before already, bit more huffing and puffing, some more grunting, and then I got my one-year sticker after all and the grumpy woman went on to hassle somebody else.
    Same as with any other dealings with officials and paperwork, a certain amount of arguing seems to be required, including some flat denials, more arguing, and then it is business as usual.
    No visa because too old? You: “No, I’m not old! Wen Jiabao is old! Am I old? Do you have a mirror? I’m not old, look! Just give me my sticker, thanks” — They: “Oh, okay, here you go…”
    I actually don’t believe the on-line visa thing is going to work, because where is the essential huffing and puffing ritual? Precisely…!
    However, not getting a Z sticker (to work) is of course just stooooopid, and personally I think it is good that they get tougher on that — I don’t like being the only one paying tax, for one…

  • Sino Man

    I am getting tired of reading about people who violate China’s visa laws and then come crying to their lawyers for help. The law is clear. Just follow it.

  • Jeanne Elliott

    I have tried this link every way I can think of and can not open it. Do you know if it has been moved?

  • H. Saleh

    Stupid people doing stupid things and getting caught. That’s it. The US doesn’t like Mexican illegal workers, why should the Chinese put up with American illegal workers? “Americans – The Mexicans of China” would be a good headline.

    • safelovesauspak

      and “Americans–The Mexicans of Australia”

  • Chalmers Wood

    A few days ago I was chatting with a senior police officer at a large Spring Festival family gathering and asked him what were the biggest problems the police here had with various foreigners. For Americans, it was marijuana, (etc) and for the British, it was money scams. (Oh really? 😉 My guess is: things will get gradually, politely, and ever more tight for zero-sum stoners and scammers, and nicer and nicer for those that develop win-win relationships of trust and profit with the kind of hard working local families that, for thousands of years, have been making China China.

  • Wen

    Come on people….. How is this even news? You break the law, get caught, you face the consequences. Not so hard. Let me guess, Americans expect special treatment from the CCP? Not gonna happen. Those days are loong gone. And if the third individual knew anything about China and their sensitivity to internet censorship and other things, he/she would have known better. You go to China, you follow their rules, spoken or not.

  • d.h.

    is good to see that law is changing. but will the government follow these laws????
    i have started a restaurant in china under my name (wofe) and with this company I’m trying to get a working visa just like any other foreigner who owns a company in china. i’ve done all my papers exactly like the law asks for. but still can get my papers done so i can go to the Chinese embassy back home. the government official is giving me the dumbest reason i have ever heard of. they told me that the law is changing at the moment and that they have to wait until the new law is in and then they can give me the documents i need from them. and they have been telling me this already for 2 months now. before Chinese new year they told me to wait after the new year. the new law should be ready by then and then they can give me the documents that i need. now chinese new year is finished and still nothing yet.
    how do the expect me to run my company while not being there???? how do they want me to work there with out a working visa. i have no choice so i hope that they don’t check my company for visas.
    so at the moment the Chinese government has no law for foreigner working in china. they are not even willing to keep on using the old law like any other country would do. no. i really don’t understand how these government officials can sleep every night and how they wake up every day and go to work. they should be ashamed of them self.

  • Merlin2.0

    I’d like to ask somebody about what to do if you get led like a hooked fish into a hole by what appears to be a legit business, or your partner gives you the slip.
    I have come across that, not had the money to make the trip to HK, and all the SH immigration was offering at the time was 10 day extensions (which you cant really do anything with).
    As such I’ve ended in a hole. Everytime I go looking for answers to climb out of the hole I find many comments as on here suggesting that it’s “easy cheesy” to follow the rules and those that dont should be thrown in debtors prison. I originally came here looking for a new life to escape my past with cancer and the looming “debt crisis” in America that trickled around the world.
    I may be the only one peeping my head out of the ground and taking a chance asking openly on a blog. Most usually stay hidden because they think they can last forever, but I see laws beginning to tighten. It started with the trains in May, then the bus in June, and I hear that they are requiring TEACHING EXPERIENCE + BA DEGREE + TEACHING EXPERT PAPER to get a work visa in Sept. I have never worked illegally since thankfully my family back home has thrown money in my bank account, but they are growing tired. Also, as of late, I’ve had more issues with police using my door as a punching bag at 9am. I dont want to be in any hole nor illegal. It was never in my plan. I cant run to anybody saying I’ve been cheated since I’ll be dragged to a Chinese court where I must pay a few sacks of money for a lawyer when I know I’ll lose. I’m on here asking anybody if they have any suggestions.

  • Aa_jj72

    When I applied for my working visa before I was given a working visa But shortly returned back to my home country. My working visa ran out 3 months ago and I now wish to return to shanghai to work once again. Can you tell me if it’s is easier to receive one because I have been given one last year and second question is… Do they keep a record of the documents like degree and cv. I ask because I have two degrees and wish to apply for design jobs wish corresponds to my second degree. Please help thanks