It is not surprising that more and more students, young practitioners and graduates worldwide are becoming interested in getting an internship in China. The country has much to offer in terms of history, culture, geography and even popular cuisine.
More importantly, China is shaping the current international business landscape and has become a major driver of the global economy.
To gain an all-important educational and professional experience in China through an internship is, therefore, a major feather in the cap that will be useful in whatever future career the individual decides to pursue.
However, as this article will show, getting an internship in China is not as easy as doing it in other countries. There are various challenges to overcome, eg legal and procedural matters, which are best handled by a professional in this field.
The expertise of an International PEO such as New Horizons Global Partners could be of great value in such an endeavor, particularly through our legal and immigration team, and visa consultants.
To better appreciate how we could be of service on these matters, the following is a comprehensive presentation of how to go about an internship in China, including the visa requirements that come with it.
Internships in China – The Basics
Essentially, an internship involves a structured and supervised learning experience that comes with practical and meaningful work connected to the student’s area of study or professional field. It gives the intern the opportunity to develop and explore his career while learning new skills.
Similarly, an internship in China can spell valuable experience that can improve the employability and skillset of the student, and broaden his network. Internships in China are more prevalent in the following cities:
- Hong Kong;
- Hangzhou; and,
However, the existing policies and constantly changing laws make internships in China quite complex and at times ambiguous.
In fact, before 2013, international students are not even allowed to obtain an internship in China while studying. This is one of the main reasons why many interested students changed their minds about studying in China.
However, in July 2013, by virtue of the enforcement of the Exit and Entry Administration Law of the People’s Republic of China adopted by the Standing Committee of the Eleventh National People’s Congress, the prevailing visa system at the time was modified.
This resulted in changes in the residence permit application process. With this new law, foreign students with a residence permit for the purpose of studying in China will be allowed to take internships or part-time work outside their respective universities, if and only if, they will be able to do the following:
- obtain permission from their universities;
- get permission from the entry and exit administrative authorities; and,
- if they will follow the prescribed processes.
The type of internship depends largely on its provider. There are three types of internship offered to foreign students in China depending on the company that provides it, as follows:
- Unpaid internships;
- Paid internships, but many are only good enough to cover expenses; and,
- Internships where the student is the one that has to pay.
The above types of internship may be offered by an entity to an intern in China but foreign students should be very careful with the terms of their internship. It is against the law in China for foreign students to work as an intern with a salary. The reasons for this include the following:
- Avoid foreigners working in China full-time without paying taxes; and,
- Preserve available jobs in major industries for the Chinese labor.
This means that any internship conducted in China will not come with a salary. However, there are certain companies that provide interns with monthly stipends, benefits such as travel, food, transportation, and accommodation, or the reimbursement of such expenses.
As following the laws in China is crucial, particularly for foreigners, it is important for students to closely consider their internship in China and learn the relevant laws. They should be careful with providers of internship that promises high salaries without first checking the legality.
Be sure to get the services of a trustworthy professional with deep experience in Chinese laws and regulations to avoid legal risks.
Why Students Want to Obtain an Internship in China
Despite the challenges that go with it, there remains to be a big number of people worldwide who wants to obtain an internship in China. One of the main reasons for this is the huge advantages they will gain from such an experience.
Besides learning about the Chinese history and culture, and enjoining the modern lifestyle now practiced in China, the following benefits are the key reasons why more and more foreigners go to China for an internship experience:
- Booming Economy– China is now the second biggest economy in the world next to the United States, making it a major business hub. As such, anybody who experiences it firsthand could gain valuable business skills and get a glimpse of how to become successful entrepreneurs in the future, whether in China or in other countries;
- Home to Top Rank Universities – China is home to high ranking universities, even better than its counterparts abroad. In fact, such reputable ranking organizations as QS Top Universities Rankings and Times Higher Education have included Chinese Universities in the top 100 worldwide, eg Peking University, Tsinghua University, Fudan University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Zhejiang University and several universities in Hong Kong, to name a few;
- English-Taught Education – China universities offer programs to international students taught in the English language, thus allowing for easier learning. In fact, the country offers foreign students 616 Master’s degree programs taught entirely in the English language;
- Learn the Chinese Language – whether the student will take a Chinese or English taught degree in China, they will learn the Chinese language. Some even get entire courses to fully learn it. This is because knowing Chinese and Mandarin has become a valuable asset, especially in business. Chinese and Mandarin are currently the most commonly spoken languages in the world at more than 1 billion people using it. More importantly, the Chinese language is considered the second most important business language in the global market next to English. Many high-profile businessmen learn it for business purposes, eg Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
- Build a Broad Network – through an internship program in China, students are able to gain a broad network of contacts that will prove useful in their future careers. It effectively places their “foot in the door” of an employer who may hire them after graduation. It also allows for acquiring network in a wide array of industries provided by other international and domestic students.
- Better Employability – an internship, especially one taken in China, could considerably stand out in a resume, thus allowing for better employability. A work experience in China indicates that the person knows how to perform in a fast-paced environment with impressive business acumen. It also indicates that the candidate is highly flexible, worldly and is trained in a workplace characterized by “organized chaos.”
- Experience Tourist’s Lifestyle while Studying – To study and get an internship in China allows for a lifestyle similar to that of a tourist. This is because the student will be able to enjoy the numerous sites the country has to offer, eg the Terracotta Warriors, the Great Wall of China, etc. It also offers them with world-class cuisine. All these can be enjoyed while studying.
- Open Opportunities – A number of opportunities open up for interns in China. For instance, a foreign student taking up Drama in a Chinese university would be easily considered in Chinese films where a foreigner is needed, or a language student may be considered for interpreter jobs, etc.
Clearly, obtaining an internship in China represents a worthy investment useful in future professional careers. However, as reiterated several times in this article, doing so involves the understanding of various policies, laws, and processes in China that could prove ambiguous, confusing and ever-changing, particularly with regard to the appropriate visas.
The help of a professional will allow you to maximize all the benefits of an internship in China while negating all possible legal liabilities.
The 2016 Regulation in Favor of Foreigner’s Internship in Beijing
Certain regulations relating to internship programs in China were enforced in 2016. China’s Ministry of Public Security approved a visa pilot program which commenced on 1 March 2016.
This program provides foreign students with opportunities for internships in Zhongguancun, Beijing, which is known for its high tech capabilities.
The 2016 regulation allowed foreign students to get part-time work or build their own businesses in the Zhongguancun Business Park. They are also permitted to have short-term internships in the companies within the said area.
These new policies and regulations were highly appreciated by university personnel to help develop work opportunities for international students in China.
Zhongguancun is a huge area consisting of over 20,000 companies known as a national center for science and technology innovation. With the 2016 regulation, China intends to encourage talented and skilled foreign students to help in the area’s further development.
The following procedures and privileges will be provided to those interested to participate in this internship program in Beijing:
- A service desk in Zhongguancun will be set up under the Public Security Bureau (PSB) exit and entry administration to accommodate inquiries.
- International students of Beijing universities will be permitted to start their own small business endeavors or take part-time work in Zhongguancun. However, this will only be allowed if the concerned university approves it and a recommendation letter will be provided, which in turn will be submitted before the PSB exit and entry authorities. The latter will place an annotation to the student’s residence permit allowing the carrying out of “innovative activities.”
- Foreign students from universities outside China will be permitted to obtain short-term internships in Zhongguancun companies that provided them with an invitation to partake in practical training. This invite will have to be filed before the Beijing PSB exit and entry authorities to enable the applicant foreign student to get an S2-Visa (private affairs visa) from the port visa authorities. The latter will annotate their S2-visa with “practical training” activities for the students to enter the country.
- The PSB will attempt a streamlined process for foreign students employed by startup entities in the area to enable them to get the appropriate visas from the concerned ports of entry, as well as long-term residence permits.
- Those with doctoral degrees in Chinese universities will be given easier access to permanent residency by the Ministry of Public Security. This privilege will also be granted to foreigners working in Zhongguancun companies for four years.
- Finally, Beijing will apply before China’s State Council to authorize foreigners visiting the area to be granted 144-hour, visa-free stays in the country’s capital.
Just as with other internship-related exercises in China, this one proved to be process intensive.
This regulation was further extended by the Chinese government with a 2017 policy relating to foreign workers that covered the entire country, not just Beijing.
2017 Policy in Connection with Internships in China
In line with the periodic changes made by the Chinese government to its laws, particularly ones related to internships in China, an official notice was issued, once again providing modifications to the law.
On 12 January 2017, China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (HRSS) has enforced policies that made it easier for foreign students to work in China.
Under this 2017 notice, within one year after a foreign student graduated from a Master’s degree or a higher postgraduate degree either from a Chinese University or a well-known and recognized university overseas will be permitted to work in China. This will transpire after the graduate acquires a work permit and an employment license.
However, the process involved in doing this is even more challenging. A comprehensive guide on the requirements and procedures on how foreigners can legally work in China is provided in this article.
The newest policy was implemented with the purpose of heightening China’s attractiveness to foreign students to earn an education from Chinese universities. The country aims to attract at least 500,000 international students to study in China by the year 2020.
The 2017 policy is an improvement of the 2016 regulation provided above, which opened opportunities for foreign students to take their internship programs in Zhongguancun, Beijing. With the 2017 notice, the opportunity for foreigners to work in China is no longer limited to just Beijing but to the entire country.
Eligibility for Internship in China under the New Policy
Under the latest 2017 policy, a foreign graduate will be eligible to work in China and get a work visa if the following basic requirements are met:
- No less than 18 years of age, has no criminal records and in good health;
- Holder of an average grade of B or higher (at least 80%);
- Holder of a relevant degree or an education certificate;
- In receipt of a job confirmation that matches the acquired degree/major;
- Will get a higher salary than locals; and,
- Holder of a valid passport or its equivalent travel documents.
Work permits and employment licenses will be granted to eligible and qualified foreign students at Chinese universities. Eligible students from foreign universities will likewise be granted work permits and employment licenses once they arrived in China and acquired a work visa to allow them to work in the country.
The employment licenses issued to foreign graduates will have one-year validity from the time of their arrival. Succeeding licenses can have up to five-year validity.
While the foregoing may seem simple and clear enough, the processes and requirements to acquire those permits, licenses, and visas are quite complicated, lengthy and even confusing.
It simply cannot be done accurately and quickly without the help of an expert in this field. An exhaustive guideline on the involved procedures is offered in this article. As regards the relevant visas, the following section will serve as guidance.
Visas for Internship in China
It is very important for foreigners who want to get an internship in China to understand how the laws on visas work to avoid being deceived by independent internship providers that proliferate online.
The following guideline will help prospective interns get a comprehensive overview of how the types of visa will figure out in their internship in China.
China issues different types of visas depending on the purpose of entry. There are providers out there that will offer any visa just to allow entry into China and promise to help with a change of visa once in the country.
Do not agree with this.
Working illegally in China could result in deportation, fines, and even imprisonment. It is important to enter the country with the correct visa for internships. The following visas are issued by the Chinese government to foreigners:
L Visa or Tourist Visa
As the term suggests, this visa is meant to be issued to tourists, not students or interns. Holders of an L visa must not work in China as it is prohibited by law. The consequences of being caught with unauthorized employment in the country are not worth the risk.
Visa brokers or providers may offer an L Visa as an option to enter China with the intent of changing the visa once in China, particularly if work is already available. This is not advisable as there is no guarantee of getting the correct visa once in China.
Denial is highly probable. Those employed with an L visa runs the risk of not being paid properly by the employer, of suffering unethical and poor work conditions, etc., particularly if the employer is aware of the employee’s status.
Z Visa or Work Visa
As provided by China’s Labor Department, a foreign national should acquire a Z visa if he will work in China, more particularly, if he has a labor relationship with a Chinese work unit. Those foreigners with foreign labor contract and source of salary will also need a Z visa to enter China, particularly if he will engage in work for 3 months or more.
However, as provided by Article 6 of the 1996 Regulations on the Employment of Foreigners, the Work Visa must only be issued to foreigners who will take positions in companies where there is a “special need” and is considered an occupation in “shortage” in China.
From the foregoing provisions of Chinese laws, however, it is clear that a Z visa is not meant to be used for internship purposes by foreigners. Moreover, the acquisition of the Z visa is quite difficult even if the purpose is really to work in China.
F Visa or Visitor Visa
Prior to 2013 and by virtue of Article 4(4) of the 2010 Implementing Rules, the F Visa is used for internship purposes in China. It permits the holder to get a six-month internship, regardless if it is paid or not.
However, after relevant regulations enforced in 2013, particularly Article 6 of the State Council Regulations, all references to internship has been removed. Instead, the Visitor Visa is issued only for “non-commercial visits, exchanges, inspections, etc.”
It is currently issued to experts invited in such non-commercial events as investigations, conferences, sports activities, educational, scientific or technological tours, cultural exchanges, and health activities.
With the new regulations on the F visa in 2013, it can no longer be issued for the purpose of an internship. As a result, those who apply for this visa to obtain internships in China are immediately denied.
However, this visa is still offered by some internship and gets them approved by giving eligible reasons. However, the foreign intern should be wary of this since internships with a salary in China using an F visa is an illegal act.
M Visa or Business Visa
Technically, the purpose of the Business Visa is for “commerce or trade.” However, the M Visa is typically used if the purpose of entry into China is for internships. However, this entails an internship without salary or any form of compensation. Moreover, an M Visa provides a short-term stay in the country, ie 30, 60, or 90 days.
Therefore, to use it for an internship will prove costly as it is necessary to leave and come back to China according to the duration contained in the M visa. A renewal of the M visa to extend the stay may be done instead. However, this will also require the holder to spend a considerable amount, with no guarantee of approval.
Moreover, getting an M visa is very difficult and process-intensive.
The requirements include an invitation letter from the Chinese employer or a registered entity that will take the foreigner as an intern. To be able to get one, it is important for the foreigner to have a resume that stands out, as well as proficiency in the Chinese language.
More importantly, a foreigner intern may only get away with a Business Visa, if no compensation will be received. If the intention is to work for pay with an M Visa, then the employment is considered illegal.
In fact, on 25 November 2013, the American Chamber of Commerce-China was verbally informed by a representative of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) that the Ministry intended to forbid the use of F and M visas for internships in China.
This is mainly due to its past experiences wherein actual paid employment in China were disguised as an internship. These foreigners are not eligible to get work visas but managed to enter China as interns under M or F visas.
The same representative divulged that internal instructions were provided to various consulates to deny M or F visas for internship purposes.
However, as mentioned early on in this article, the relevant Chinese laws are quite vague. In interpreting these regulations on M and F visas, the argument was that it should be permitted since the internship is not considered work, as provided in Article 8 of the 1996 Rules for the Administration of Employment of Foreign Nationals.
This provision was never repealed in the succeeding State Council regulations and is therefore still enforced. Given the ambiguity of these laws, employers play it safe by hiring only those with a legal status and required permits/visas.
X Visa (Broken Down into X1 and X2 Visas) or Student Visa
Both the X1 and X2 visas are issued to foreigners intending to study in China.
The X1 visa is granted if the foreigner needs to stay in China for more than 6 months, typically for taking postgraduate studies or doing educational fieldwork.
The X2 visa is also for the same purpose but for international students that will stay in the country for less than six months.
To be issued an X Visa, the foreigner must have a registered residence. Holders of an X1 visa may acquire an internship and other work in China if they will send an internship application to their respective universities and get an approval. This approval letter from the institution will then be filed before the PSB Entry and Exit office, where the foreigner will also provide his employer details to be indicated in the residence permit.
Under Article 43(3) of the Entry-Exit Administration Law (EEAL), as well as Article 22 of the State Council regulations, a foreigner with an X1 Visa working outside the allowed scope contained in the residence permit renders his employment illegal.
The X1 visa is the preferred choice of colleges, universities and other Chinese institutions since it provides for a longer stay. Those who apply for an X2 visa are typically foreign students who will enter language schools or other short-term programs in China.
The benefit of getting an X visa for an internship is that it can be extended while in China. However, there are situations where the application for extension must be done in Hong Kong, thus the need to travel. Another advantage is that most Fortune 500 companies in China hire interns holding an X visa.
Starting in 2016, the visas that are approved by the Chinese government for the purpose of internship in China are those in the X category. It would be to the foreign student’s advantage to make use of this visa and avoid the risk of legal liabilities due to the use of wrong visas.
S Visa or the Private Affairs Visa
The S visa is further divided into the S1 and S2 visas. Both are typically issued to relatives of foreigners who are working and living in China, thus the term “private affairs.” These are usually the spouses, children or parents of foreigners in China, who are commonly X or Z visa holders.
The reason it is included in this article is that of the 2016 regulation that allowed internship of foreigners in Zhongguancun, Beijing.
Starting 1 March 2016, Zhongguancun Science Park companies are accepting foreign students from Chinese and overseas universities to obtain short-term internship using an S2 visa. The S2 visa is the short-term type of the Private Affairs visa and is provided under Article 6(11) of the State Council regulations.
From the foregoing information about the different visas issued by the Chinese government, the visa that may be used for internship purposes is the X1 and X2 Visas and the S2 visa for the Zhongguancun Science Park internship program.
While foreigners may enter China using the other visas and acquire paid internship or employment, such is an illegal act and could be meted with considerable consequences.
Documentary Requirements and Procedure for an Internship Visa
Once the foreigner has decided on the type of visa to apply for to complete an internship in China, the next step is to find an educational institution that will sponsor the student.
Internship visas in China will not be approved without a sponsor. This means the required documents to be submitted to Chinese authorities must be issued by the educational institution to be accepted.
Upon entering China, the foreign student must visit the PSB office to complete the registration and show qualifications for the internship. Included in the documentary requirements to be submitted to the PSB, which must be prepared prior to enter China, are as follows:
- Original and Stamped Certification from the Ministry of Education, which is required for the visa to be issued;
- Original Invitation letter from the Educational Institution in China;
- Original Certificate of Incorporation; and,
- Other documentation as may be required, eg accommodation, contracts, itinerary.
The following are the usual visa application steps taken by foreigners who will complete an internship in China:
- Contact the target institution to get its assistance in the provision and preparation of the required documents;
- Fill up the application form for the Visa;
Submit all required documents in the Chinese Consulate nearest your area in your country of origin;
- Pay for the visa application fee at the Visa Office you submitted the documents; and,
- Pick up your visa five working days after application.
While the abovementioned requirements and processes are currently followed, China is known to keep changing its regulations and laws.
Therefore, these rules may vary after a certain time. To ensure accuracy and to avoid legal problems, it is best to get the services of a professional.
This is especially useful given the highly complex and the ambiguous legalities involved.
We Can Help You
A Global PEO such as New Horizons Global Partners can assist you through the entire endeavor.
We can offer you a flexible, cost-effective, quick and most efficient means of getting an internship in China without the legal risks and immigration challenges that typically go with it.