Interning and tips on dealing with China visa regulations

China visa regulations

A friend of mine recently had his formal internship offer in Shanghai revoked after the new internship regulations came into effect. Though my company usually doesn’t have anything to do with internships, I thought school-age blog readers would benefit from being aware of the challenges he faced, and some of the issues apply to full-time positions as well, so I asked him to write up some lessons and he’s shared the following advice on interning and the problem of the new China visa regulations:

Friends and relatives in the states often ask me to clarify what I mean by “visa problems.” I end up giving them a 15-minute account over Skype of my two-month struggle involving HR personnel, Exit-Entry Bureau officers, and a residence permit classification which apparently no longer exists.

On the other hand, when I mention my “visa problems” to expats in China, they don’t need clarification. They nod, crack a slight smile, and give me a face that says “been there.” Every expat experiences his or her fair share of visa issues, and that’s just something you’ll have to prepare for mentally if you plan on coming to China.

I will spare you the two-page recount of my story, but rather will try to share some lessons I’ve learned from my experiences. Before I share these lessons, however, I wanted to give a quick background of my situation:

After finishing my undergraduate degree last year in the US, I flew to Beijing for six more months of Mandarin studies. During my time there, I applied to and was accepted for an internship in Shanghai to begin in January. At the time, I had assumed that the company would be able to supply me with all the necessary paperwork. Not only was I incorrect in this assumption, but China’s massive overhaul of its visa regulations the previous September would prohibit me from obtaining any of the paperwork necessary to formalizing my internship.

The following are lessons based on my personal experience.


Lessons learned

1) Maintain good communication with the HR manager of any firm you plan to work for

Ask him or her whether the company has experience bringing in interns, which visa you’ll be coming on, and stay in contact to ensure that you’re actually gathering the right paperwork. In my case, the hiring manager wasn’t in good communication with HR and made some misleading statements. The HR department, on the other hand, had plenty of experience with interns, but the new regulations threw even them off.

2) Ask young professionals around you how they’ve handled their visa issues.

HR and hiring managers may be very limited in what they can suggest to you legally. For example, after informing me that the company couldn’t provide a proper work visa, the hiring manager could only legally suggest that I speak to a previous intern. That intern, in turn, suggested I sign up for classes at a local university to obtain a study visa.

This previous intern had joined the company before the September overhaul and had actually been able to intern legally on a student visa. The week before his first day, he simply took a letter from the company, a letter from his university, and a filled-out application form to the Exit-Entry bureau to obtain an annotated residence permit. Unfortunately, after the overhaul, this method stopped working, and I was the guinea pig that found out. The university no longer gave out letters, and the Exit-Entry Bureau no longer gave out the annotated residence permits. “How am I supposed to intern legally, then?” “There is no way, at the moment,” they said, “we need direction from the central government first. It might not be out for months.”

3) It’s best to come to China as a student.

Two interns currently working in the office legally are also current students at American universities and had been able to obtain letters from their schools authorizing the internship. The Exit-Entry Bureau accepted these letters and gave them oral authorization to intern on a study visa (to clarify: this oral authorization replaced the need for an annotated residence permit). I wasn’t able to obtain this authorization, because I was at a Chinese university and no longer at an American one.

Through further inquiry, I discovered that long-term students at Chinese universities, for example, master’s students, may have an easier time getting this oral authorization as well. Unfortunately, I was neither an American student nor a long-term student at a Chinese university.

4) Don’t come to a major Chinese city in January.

Everyone will be visiting their hometowns for the New Year’s while schools and companies go on break (Shanghai’s population halves during this time). I wasn’t able to intern during this time, and with 80% of restaurants closed, I found myself both hungry and bored.

5) If you are getting your visa through a well-known Chinese school, be sure to apply for their scholarships.

Plenty of my classmates have had their tuition and housing paid for in full by the Chinese government because they were accepted for the scholarship.

In the end, my hiring manager felt bad for putting me through such a painful two-month process, in which my application was ultimately denied. To compensate, he currently allows me to work on a project from home and agreed to write me a letter of recommendation at the conclusion of my term. While it’s not the most ideal outcome, I have come to accept these kinds of struggles as a fact of living and working in China.

A mentor once told me, “Most foreigners can’t handle the challenges that living and working in China presents, but those who stay will be positioned to take advantage of incredible opportunities.”

This article was originally posted on Atlas China


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Before founding ATLAS-China, Abe graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2009 after studying abroad in China. He then spent a year in Nanjing earning a graduate certificate at the Johns Hopkins University – Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies. As well as running ATLAS-China, Abe is an active event organizer in the American business and international alumni communities in Beijing.

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