Over 1 million expatriates were living in China last year. Many of these students and workers find themselves not currently in China despite jobs and ongoing education programs still underway. Many left China during the winter holiday season of Christmas, New Year’s, and Chinese New Year planning to return in weeks. Yet the rise of COVID-19 cases and travel restrictions have left them abroad for months, for some more than half a year.
Travel Restrictions and Fast Track Programs/Green Channels
On March 28th, the Chinese Government made restrictions similar to many other countries, restricting foreign nationals from entering the country. Now three months later, the same restrictions are in place, yet some of the exceptions for essential workers to return have been increasing with six nations (South Korea, Singapore, Germany, Japan, France, and the UK) being granted “Fast Track Programs” for such workers to get back. Another two countries have official “Green Channels”: Italy and Switzerland.
Successful Cases of Return to China
Germany was one of the first countries that worked to establish two charter flights of essential workers back to China. They were able to create a standardized process for their applicants to follow.
Other countries outside these eight have also been able to see successful cases of workers returning. This includes cases of non-nationals who spent months of quarantine in other countries beside their place of citizenship. The United States of America has also had successful cases of Americans returning to China for work.
The Process: Invitation Letter, New Visa, COVID-19 Test, Flight, Quarantine in China
This process has been described as very difficult but possible by several who have helped in successful cases. Successful cases require good relationships, patience, and a good case for your work in China being essential.
Five major steps are included. The first is applying for and receiving an Invitation Letter (also known as a PU Letter) from your local government (district or town) in China approved by the Foreign Affairs Office. This allows you to move to the next step - applying for a new visa for entry into China at your local Chinese consulate outside China. Next up is being tested for coronavirus and providing your COVID-19 RNA Test Report. Then, you will need to secure a seat on a flight, possibly a charter flight. Lastly, upon arriving to China, you will go through a physical entry process that includes another COVID-19 test and a fourteen-day quarantine, most likely in a government chosen hotel.
Invitation Letter (PU)
Each step is difficult in its own right. The first requires that your organization has an important role in its district or town and that your human resources and government relations team is strong. The letter is a document released from your local government complete with barcode, your name, your passport number, and government seal. It is valid for 3 months.
New Entry Visa
Secondly, you need to apply for a new visa for entry into China. Each local consulate may have a different process but based on the Houston Chinese Consulate in the United States, the following documents and process is required:
1. V2013 visa application form with one passport photo on it
2. US passport (picture page) 3. Last Chinese Visa and resident permit copy 4. Work permit ID (both sides) 5. Invitation letter with barcode from Foreign Affair Office in China 6. A business invitation letter from the employer or proof of business relationship with the company 7. Copy of the Driver's License 8. Health Declaration Form 9. A copy of the COVID-19 RNA test report
Chinese Consulates in the United States Closed
Another difficulty in the United States is that some, if not all, of the Chinese Consulates are closed due to COVID-19. Thus, they are not processing visas normally and you are asked to submit emergency needs by email. In this case, it may be better to use a visa agent to get your documents to the consulate. Scan all the above documents and email it to a visa agent service to submit them to the consulate. The visa agent will inform you once the visa is approved. Then you can mail the visa agent the physical documents and your passport to get the visa put in your passport and sent back to you.
Flight Restrictions and Challenges
The other major restrictions by the government have been on airlines flying between China and other outside destinations. Originally with 134 flights a week, the “Five One” policy limited each Chinese carrier to one international flight to any specific country a week. Foreign airlines were also only allowed to maintain one route to China a week. On May 27th China’s Civil Aviation Authority allowed domestic and foreign passenger airlines to apply for “Green Channels” for chartered flights to airports in the Chinese mainland. On June 8th the US allowed Chinese airlines to operate two flights per week and China recently expanded to more than 407 flights. Delta Air Lines, Lufthansa, United Airlines, and Asiana Airlines have been given permission to operate two flights in and out per week. Generally, airline tickets have been difficult and expensive to book due to these restrictions and the backlog of travelers from canceled flights who are being given priority as more flights startup again.
Even after your flight is booked there are some potential challenges. Many flights that have been booked have later been canceled due to restrictions. Additionally, some have reported that you will be required to have a COVID-19 test within seventy-two hours of boarding your flight and that this test report will be a requirement for boarding as well as no fever or other COVID-19 symptoms as you board. Many airlines require passengers to wear face coverings for the duration of flights and many passengers have been photographed wearing full body PPE during the flights.
Entry Process and Quarantine
Lastly, upon arriving to China you will go through a special physical entry process that includes another COVID-19 test. If you have a negative test result, you will be taken to a government chosen hotel for a fourteen-day quarantine. You must pay for these hotel expenses, which usually include three meals per day that are delivered to your door. There have also been reports of two additional COVID-19 tests that are taken around the middle and end of your quarantine.
Difficulty of Short-term Business Visits
Although some cases of people from countries such as Germany, South Korea, and Singapore have reported the possibility of “Fast Track Programs” in which essential workers could bypass the fourteen-day quarantine, most cases of short-term business visits probably will not happen until the end of these restrictions due to the fourteen-day quarantine.
PRI as Your Local Partner in China
This brings up the importance of having a local partner already on the ground in China. Pacific Resources International can be your partner for this. PRI has engineers, salespeople, general managers and many other professionals already on the ground in China that can support your business needs at your site. We can also use our experience in applying for foreigners getting back into China to help you in this process. If you have any questions or need support please send us a message on LinkedIn or by email to (email@example.com). You can find more information about us on our website: (priusa.com), where you can schedule a free consultation for further follow-up.