Foreigners who come to China to work will soon get a unified work permit, as the country tries to streamline the process and improve efficiency to attract more skilled foreign talent.
The reform will combine China's two current foreigner work permits into one.
A trial will get underway in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin municipalities as well as in Hebei, Anhui, Shandong, Guangdong and Sichuan provinces and the Ningxia Hui autonomous region beginning in October, according to the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, which is leading the reform. The reform will be implemented nationwide in April, the administration said.
"The unification eliminates the replicated application hurdle and improves communication, aiming to better serve overseas talent coming to work in China," Zhang Jianguo, head of the administration, said on Thursday at a seminar in Tianjin.
Under the current system, foreigners can apply for either of two types of work permit－an employment license for foreigners issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, or a foreign expert work permit provided by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs.
"Legally, it is pretty hard to tell which category an applicant belongs to," said Liu Guofu, a professor of immigration law at the Beijing Institute of Technology.
"For example, if a foreign specialist from Microsoft applies for a work permit in China, is he an expert or not? " Liu said, adding that the current rule can be confusing for foreigners.
Liu said a single work permit is commonly used in most developed countries for global talent recruitment. "The old rule is more likely a product of a planned economy, and the new one is market-driven," he said.
Zhang said the reform also aims to attract more highly skilled foreigners and those in demand to help with China's development.
"An identification card is an excellent choice and is overdue," said Donald Guadagni, who teaches English at Ningbo City College of Vocational Technology.
"The issuance of this type of credential would be welcome by many foreigners, as it could serve as an alternate State-issued ID for the purpose of in-country travel, railways and banking services," he said.
Guadagni added that the government should review guidelines and policies regularly to ensure that rules are up-to-date.
The areas selected for the trial will begin preparations in October, including staff training and promotion, and the new permit will be issued in these regions beginning on Nov 1.
According to the administration, a manual will be issued to guide foreigners in obtaining the permit. The manual will explain such things as applicant requirements, basic procedures and the review time.
After the work permit is issued, an expatriate will obtain a work permit card with an identification number. The card will include the worker's name and photo, the period for which the permit is valid and the employer's name.
"The new work permit card will be the legal credential for foreigners to work in China," said Gao Xiang, director of the administration's department of policies and regulations.
He said the number on the permit will be used to "record, manage and serve each foreigner who works in China".
The card will be issued beginning in April, after the trial is over. During the trial period, foreigners will be issued a temporary paper card, the administration said.
According to the Ministry of Public Security, nearly 600,000 foreigners had lived in China for more than six months by 2011, with about 220,000 expats working in China, mostly in joint ventures or as teachers or representatives of foreign institutions.
In December, the State Council decided to unify the two work permits into one as part of China's efforts to simplify administrative procedures.