Process for Arranging Return to China
Please note the latest advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on travelling to China: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/china
Please be aware: all stages of the process outlined below are owned and managed by the Chinese government at both national and local levels. Local implementation may differ and there are unlikely to be opportunities for UK Government and partners to influence individual applications. The information outlined below is based on information provided to us by the Chinese authorities in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong, and is our best understanding of the process and information given at that time. Please note that we are making enquiries about the possibility of returning to other localities.
Criteria for which category of businesses are allowed to return foreign national staff also differ by jurisdiction and continue to evolve in line with local economic and epidemic control requirements.
The process is new and therefore relatively untested. As the situation is uncertain and evolving, there is no guarantee that applications will be accepted as described.
- An application does not guarantee that permission to return will be granted – due to a series of necessary approvals and conditions as mentioned above.
- The possibility to rejoin family members has not so far been tested and cannot be guaranteed.
- These processes constitute local provincial policies to return foreign workers, and therefore may differ from the advertised “fast-track” process.
For more information or if you have specific questions pertinent to your case, you will need to contact the Chinese authorities.
Who can apply:
- UK nationals – with existing employment visa and a valid residence permit in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangdong – who need to return to working and living in China, and whose return can be justified by their employer as ‘urgent’ or ‘essential’.
- Immediate family members of the above mentioned UK nationals (with a valid residence permit) who wish to accompany them on their return.
- Possibly – and in exceptional cases – family members (of UK nationals still in China) with a valid residence permit who were displaced to third countries due to the effects of COVID-19, and who now wish to return to China to reunite with their families.
How to apply:
- In the first instance, the employer (company/school) of potential applicants will need to approach their local district Foreign Affairs Office (FAO 区外事办) or district Epidemic Control Office (区疫情防空办 – for Guangdong) to request permission to return home to their district.
- Applications approved at the district level will then be referred to the Foreign Affairs Office of the relevant Municipal People’s Government（市外事办）or Provincial People’s Government (省外事办) for their review and further approval.
- If agreed, Municipal/Provincial FAO will then issue a visa invitation letter, copied to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Chinese Embassy in London. The individual employee should use this to arrange an appointment the Chinese Embassy, where – subject to the Embassy’s final approval – they will be able to obtain a new, one off, time limited, single-entry visa to travel.
- Upon successful entry into China using the new single-entry visa, returnees will be able to stay for a maximum 180 days. The employer will be required to liaise with district FAO and Epidemic Control Offices to ensure relevant quarantine procedures and pandemic movement regulations are followed.
- During the 180 day period, individuals with previous long-term residence permits or visas that had been temporarily frozen will need to go to their local PSB immigration office to re-activate their frozen permit. The local PSB office will have ultimate decision making authority on whether or not to grant each individual request to remain on a long term basis.
What to expect from the process:
All applicants will be required to:
- Allow approximately three weeks to complete the application process.
- Ensure that they are able to identify a suitable commercial flight to return within the ‘use before date’ specified on the single entry visa, or risk having to reapply.
- Potentially be expected to arrange for a nucleic acid test (NAT) in the UK within 48 hours of departure.
- On arrival in China, undergo screening by customs officials before disembarking the plane.
- Immediately after disembarking, take a nucleic acid test (NAT) test at the airport.
- After completing the test, be met at the airport with representatives of the district of the company that made the original application on their behalf.
- Subsequently be taken to a designated facility to wait for the results of the nucleic acid test – which can take up to 24 hours.
- Assuming that the test is negative, to then quarantine for 14 days in a centrally supervised facility (designated hotel – for which the cost will be borne by the company or individual) before being able to return to home and work. In Beijing, after the 14 days you will need to complete an additional 7 days quarantine at home.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Are all UK nationals who need to return to working/living in China able to apply or just those who work in certain industries? We understand that this route is designed for those with existing employment visa and a valid residence permit in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangdong, that are deemed business critical to their respective companies. Applications will be judged by the Chinese government on the basis of each individual application.
- What if my visa/resident permit expired during the time I was out of China and when the border controls began? Your employer will need to contact the local FAO in the first instance for guidance on local requirements. Some of the material needed for the application will need to be prepared before you depart from the UK. After you enter China, your employer will be able to help you to apply for a work permit and then get a resident permit from the PSB (police). If the work permit is close to expiring but still valid, the local FAO will allow your employer to renew it online on your behalf before you physically return to China.
- If my family member is already in China and I also have a residency permit, why will I only be allowed back in in exceptional circumstances? We understand that this service is designed for and focussed on those that are deemed business critical to their respective companies – rather than on reconnecting families. Therefore we think it likely that applications through this route based on family circumstances will only be successful in exceptional circumstances.
- Why do I have to go through my employer rather than be able to apply for this on my own? As mentioned, we understand that this route is designed for those that are deemed business critical to their respective companies. Therefore the focus and onus is on those companies to make necessary arrangements through this route.
- What if I am self-employed through my own WFOE? Application should be submitted by the employer/company (though the FAO may give priority to bigger companies.)
- Do I have to get a COVID test done in the UK before applying for this? Our understanding is that applications under this service may require individuals to take a COVID-19 test in the UK at the discretion of the Chinese Embassy, and you should be prepared to make necessary arrangements if requested.
- If approved by the Chinese embassy, how long will the one-off, single entry, time-limited visa be valid for? We understand from conversations with district FAOs that recent applicants have been issued a single entry visa that requires them to arrive in China within thirty days of the application being approved. On arrival in China, we understand that the single entry visa remains valid for 180 days, during which time individuals with previous long-term residence permits or visas that had been temporarily frozen will need to go to their local PSB immigration office to re-activate their frozen permit. The local PSB office will have ultimate decision making authority on whether or not to grant each individual request to remain on a long term basis.
- What if I cannot get a flight in time before the approved visa expires? We understand that you would be able to apply again.
- What if my application gets rejected? We understand that you would be able to apply again, if you wish.
- Given the lack of commercial flights available, will the British Embassy/Consulates be organising charter flights from the UK to China to support Brits in returning? If not, why not? Her Majesty’s Government currently has no plans to arrange charter flights for businesspeople to return to China. The British Chamber of Commerce in China and the China-Britain Business Council are in touch with the business community to scope the demand for this and to explore possible solutions.