China: immigration changes in the pandemic era
The most significant pandemic-era change to immigration rules in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would be the entry regulations for foreign nationals. The PRC suspended the entry of most foreign nationals on 28 March 2020, regardless of whether the foreign national holds a valid residence permit. The exception would be for those who are engaged in the necessary economic, trade, scientific and technological activities, in which case they may apply for a special visa after obtaining an invitation letter issued by the local foreign affairs office.
The rules were issued jointly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the newly founded National Immigration Administration. The new agency was established as a result of the central government reorganisation to enhance the administration over immigration and border control affairs, pooling resources to improve management of immigration and border control.
In September 2020, foreign nationals holding valid Chinese residence permits for work, personal matters and reunion were allowed to enter the PRC with no need to apply for new visas. If the above three categories of residence permits held by foreign nationals expired after 28 March 2020, the holders may apply for relevant visas by presenting the expired residence permits and relevant materials to the Chinese embassies or consulates on the condition that the purpose of the holders’ visit remains unchanged. Other foreign nationals are still subject to the entry ban implemented on 28 March 2020.
As of the date of this article, the above rules and exceptions remain the same, in addition to other entry requirements, for example, submission of negative nucleic acid and IgM antibody test results. Moreover, after entry, the foreign nationals are subject to the ‘14+7+7 model’ quarantine requirements, which means 14-day centralised medical quarantine, plus one week of home isolation or centralised quarantine and another week of health monitoring, which is adopted by Beijing and many other major cities.
We anticipate that the exceptions to the overall entry ban will expand to cover more foreign nationals as the pandemic situation slowly improves, and to a point the overall entry ban implemented on 28 March 2020 would be replaced by country-specific and temporary bans. It is unlikely the overall entry ban would be permanent.
We anticipate the exceptions would steadily expand to cover countries which have efficacious vaccination programs. However, we do not expect vaccinations would help alleviate the entry ban and quarantine situation in the short term. One example would be that, as of the time of writing, vaccination records would not exempt foreign nationals from the existing requirements.