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CHINA: New Administrative Rules for Foreign Nationals Entering China Will Take Effect in September

New administrative rules for foreign nationals entering China will take effect in September. The new rules make significant changes.

The People's Republic of China Administrative Rules for Foreign Nationals' Exit-Entry were passed by the Standing Committee of the State Counsel on July 3, 2013, and are set to take effect on September 1, 2013. This is the highest level administrative rulemaking that has occurred in response to China's new Exit-Entry laws that took effect on July 1, 2013. While the Administrative Rules do not answer all the questions that practitioners have regarding China's new immigration system, they make significant changes.

Under the new rules, ordinary visas are divided into 12 classifications—significantly more than the current 8 visa categories. The first new category is the M visa for persons who enter China for business or commercial activities. The new rules split the traditional F visitor visa category into the new F visa for persons engaging in exchanges, visits, and exploration/inspections, and the new M visa for commercial business visitors. The administrative rules do not clearly differentiate the two categories. A previous draft of the administrative rules stated that F visas would be issued to persons going to China for non-commercial visits in the fields of science, education, culture, health, and sports. However, the elimination of this language from the final rules blurs the line between these two visa categories, and implies that F visas may apply to certain business visitors. Although sponsorship is not needed for F or M visas, an invitation letter from China is required for F visa applicants, and an invitation letter from a business partner in China is required for M visa applicants.

The second new category is the R visa for foreigners with high-level talent and specialized talent who are urgently needed in China. The new Exit-Entry law and administrative rules do not define "high-level talents or urgently needed professionals." Instead, the administrative rules refer to "relevant government agencies" to provide the conditions and eligibility requirements for this visa category. More detailed rulemaking is expected to clarify the relevant definitions, visa specifications, application procedures, and possibly beneficial treatments for R visa holders.

The new administrative rules also split the traditional L visa for visitors into three categories: (1) a new L visa for tourists only; (2) a Q visa for Chinese nationals' or Chinese lawful permanent residents' family members who enter China to visit family; and (3) an S visa for family members of foreign nationals residing in China for work or study who are entering China to visit family, as well as other foreign nationals who enter China for other personal reasons. The S visa and Q visa essentially replace the former family visit L visa as well as various dependent visas. These two categories are further divided into the S1 and Q1 visa for long-term visits of over 180 days, and the S2 and Q2 visa for short-term visits of 180 days or fewer.

While visa applicants have generally enjoyed interview-free visa applications, the new administrative rules specify that under the following circumstances, foreign nationals should attend an in-person interview according to the Chinese consulate's request: (1) if the applicant will stay for more than 180 days upon entry; (2) if the applicant's personal identification information and the purpose of entry needs to be verified; (3) if the applicant has previously been rejected entry or has been given voluntary departure; or (4) if there are other circumstances making an interview necessary. The first condition applies to foreign nationals applying for J1 long-term journalist visas, Q1 long-term family visit visas, R talent visas, S1 long-term family visit visas, X1 long-term student visas, or Z work visas.

The new administrative rules require Chinese local public security authorities to process and adjudicate visa extensions, replacements, and change-of-status applications within 7 days and to process and adjudicate resident permit applications, extensions, and replacements within 15 days. The authorities must issue a receipt notice, which can be used by foreign nationals as their stay authorization document in cases where the foreign nationals' passport or travel document has been retained by the authorities for visa processing. The receipt notice is valid for up to 7 days for visa-related applications, and up to 15 days for resident permit-related applications. Various cities in China have already adopted this practice.

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