The Right Visa for Your Internship in China [Legal Advice]
Information on various categories of visa in China and which is legal for an Internship
Finding an internship in China is actually not that difficult, especially if you go through CIP. However, China requires most nationals to obtain a visa just to enter the country, and definitely a visa to study and intern. Visa regulations are constantly changing, and different agencies will tell you a variety of truths, so here we provide you an overview of possible visas you might be offered, or could encounter, during your China internship search.
We hope you’ll use the information furnished to choose the right visa for your China internship.
The Visitor Visa (F-visa)
Back in the day (pre-2013), a visitor F-visa would allow for a six-month internship, paid or non-paid. However, nowadays the wording allowing students to intern has been removed, and it has become a gray area. Strictly speaking, the F-visas are described as for non-commercial “visits, exchanges, inspections, etc.”, offered to experts invited for non-commercial conferences, cultural exchange, investigation, scientific/technological/educational tours, or for sports and other health activities. The F-visa should probably not be used for internships, which could be why many applicants applying for internships have had their F-visa applications rejected. However, since there is no official “internship visa” and nowhere does it strictly state that an F-visa cannot be used for an internship; F-visas are still offered to interns in China.
F-visas are best applied for when wanting to volunteer without compensation.
The Business Visa (M-visa)
The most commonly offered internship visa is the business M-visa, which allows the intern to be paid for their services. Officially, the M-visa is only for “commerce or trade”, which is why it is very short term and requires exit and entry every 30, 60, or 90 days. Having to leave the country and re-enter China can significantly increase the cost of your internship, depending on where you intern. For example, if you interned in Beijing and had to renew your visa in Hong Kong, you might spend between RMB 3,000-5,000 for a weekday visa run (note: you would have to take at least a day off work), but if you lived in Shenzhen, you would still need at least a day off work, but could probably get away with less than RMB 1,000.
Although the M-visa is for the business of commerce and trade, there is no official “internship visa”, and nowhere does it strictly state that an M-visa cannot be used for an internship, so M-visas are still the most commonly offered visa to interns in China.
The Tourist Visa (L-visa)
Many companies will offer a position, but require the candidate to enter China with a tourist visa first with the promise of changing it to a work visa, or another proper visa, later. This is especially true with full-time employment offers. However, remember that it is strictly illegal to work on a tourist L-visa (no gray area at all), and if you were to take the agency or company’s bait, there is absolutely no guarantee that you will not have any employee rights.
The consequences of working on a tourist visa could be an employer who refuses to pay a salary, changes the working conditions or wage amount, or other unethical change because the company knows that you have no employee rights when you’re working illegally. In addition, they know that you will not report them to anyone because by working illegally you are engaging in risky behavior that could result in substantial fines or even deportation.
The Student Visa (X-visa)
The difference between the X-visa (often broken down to X1 and X2) and F-visa is that X-visa students need to have registered residency. Students who study in China with universities on an X1-visa are allowed to perform internships and other work as long as they have submitted internship applications to their schools and received approval. They then take that approval letter to the local Entry and Exit office at the Public Security Bureau and update their residence permits with detailed information about their new employer, such as the company name, location, and employment length. The X1 Visa allows stay up to a year and can be issued by universities with a JW202. The X2 Visa is usually issued to students who will stay in China up to 6 months. Most organizations prefer X2 for internships.
The X visa could be extended while in mainland China. Some situations may require students to travel to Hong Kong to extend
The Private Affairs Visa (S-visa)
The S-visa is for relatives of foreigners living and working in China, such as trailing spouses and visiting parents. The visa can normally only be given to relatives of Z and X visa holders, but companies in Beijing’s Zhongguancun Science Park allow all foreign university students studying in Beijing to complete internships with S2 visas since the S2 (short-term) visa is loosely described as for “private affairs”.
- F-visas are for invited visitors and volunteers.
- M-visas are for business people; when used with internships there are limitations.
- L-visas are strictly for tourism and should not be used for internships.
- X-visas, especially long-term ones, are the most appropriate visas for internships.
- S-visas are alright for internships in certain high-tech zones.
- Keep in mind that regardless of visa type, non-paid internships are as legal as they are in the United States and other countries.
- Nonpaid internships might compensate by offering travel, housing, or food stipends.
- Note that different cities might have different guidelines, and that certain tech centers have more foreigner friendly policies.
Looking for a visa advice? Get in touch with our department in charge of Visa to get detailed guidance
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Written By: Jessica Suotmaa
"Jessica Suotmaa, our in-house writer, writes from Beijing, China about the education, network, and career opportunities in China. She is a profound Career Coach of our time. Prior to her China experience, she functioned as a sales trainer and assistant manager in sales and customer service in Los Angeles, CA. She writes for several career sites and is an expert on topics related to expat life in China.
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