CHINA: Shanghai Update on Z and M Visas

The authorities in Shanghai have decided that it will no longer issue invitation letters for Z (work) visas to foreign nationals applying in Hong Kong, who do not have Hong Kong residency. This means that a foreign national who is visiting Hong Kong can no longer process their Z visa whilst in Hong Kong, but must apply in their country of nationality or residence.

An invitation letter, or “Invitation Letter of Duly Authorized Unit”, is a pre-approval document that is required in order for an individual to work in China on a Z (work) visa. This letter is issued by Chinese government agencies, and must be requested by the company that has invited the individual to work for them.

Generally, all Z visa invitation letters can only be issued to the applicant”s country of origin or country of residence if the applicant has legal residency in the host country. Hong Kong has been an exception in past years, where the Shanghai authorities have been flexible in issuing invitations to foreigners who do not have residency in Hong Kong. Several of the issuing authorities in Shanghai have recently tightened this process, and no longer issue such invitations to foreigners without proof of residency in Hong Kong.

However, there are still exceptional cases granted on a case by case basis. Note that this is only for issuing authorities in Shanghai. The authorities in other cities are generally stricter in following the guideline and will need proof of residency before issuing a Z visa invitation to any host country, including Hong Kong.

We advise all foreign nationals requesting a Z visa invitation letter to have the letter issued to their country of nationality or residence, in order to avoid refusal.

It has also been reported that the immigration authorities in Shanghai have refused entry to a number of M (business) visa holders, on the grounds that their visits were frequent and extended, which the authorities suggest is indicative of the individual coming to China to work, and not just as business visitors.

The M visa has been used as short term work visa of 90 days or less by many foreign businesses in China. However, the authorities are seeing a trend of companies abusing the M visa, with their foreign employees coming in on multiple M visas during the year instead of applying for an official work visa.  

The Public Security Bureau has recently raided several foreign businesses to check on foreign employees who are working short term on M visas. Several of these companies were given warnings and some were fined for breaching immigration law.

We advise all M visa holders that frequently visit Shanghai to check with the immigration authorities that their business itinerary is suitable.

Should you have any concerns regarding your current immigration programme and would like advice or an assessment, or for further information on visiting Shanghai or on Chinese immigration in general, please contact us at

Contact Newland Chase