Source: https://www.morganlewis.com/


Entry into the Peoples Republic of China for employees of US companies is possible through certain limited routes, including the Regular Channel and Green Channel, plus through the newly created Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce.


On March 28, 2020, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) closed its borders to foreigners holding visas or residence permits in an effort to control the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and to focus on the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of PRC nationals from around the world, pursuant to an announcement made on March 26, 2020. The announcement provided exemptions for necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities and emergency humanitarian needs. Since the announcement issued in March, the PRC government has issued new, special visas to foreigners who are deemed essential for the purposes listed in the announcement.


In June, in an effort to facilitate the entry of employees deemed essential for business operations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of the PRC and select local governments within the PRC have implemented some additional options for foreigners to enter the PRC. One option, referred to as the Fast-Track Channel, is only available to nationals of countries that have signed a fast-track agreement with the PRC. 


According to media reports and the MOFA, this group currently includes Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Italy, France, Singapore, Japan, and Korea. We anticipate that this list may soon grow to include additional countries.


The second option for expatriate employees who are currently in the United States and work for US-headquartered companies to enter the country consists of two channels: the Regular Channel and the Green Channel. 


To date, the PRC government has not published anything in writing about these options. Rather, the processes have been communicated through governments, chambers of commerce, and companies seeking to sponsor the return of their expatriate employees to the PRC.


The processes are localized and are not uniform across the country, even varying from district to district within the same municipality. Further, the situation remains very fluid and the processes could be stopped or paused without any notice based on conditions within the PRC, particularly given an outbreak of COVID-19 in Beijing at the time of this writing.


FAST-TRACK CHANNEL


In order to utilize this fast-track option (not available to US employees at this time), a representative of the sponsoring company for the applicants currently located in the countries that signed a fast-track agreement with the PRC can sponsor and initiate an application for an invitation letter with the local municipal or provincial authorities.


[1] In the application, the sponsor must highlight why the visa applicant is essential, irreplaceable, and currently needed in the PRC. The sponsor should also stress the economic contribution that the company has made to the local economy because this is also a factor considered by the relevant district Foreign Affairs Office (FAO), which will review the application.


If the local authorities approve the application, the applicant will receive an official invitation letter. The applicant then needs to apply for a visa from the Chinese embassy in the country where he/she is currently resident and submit a health declaration to the Chinese authorities. We understand that this special visa application requires proof of a confirmed flight reservation.


Within 48 hours of departure, a Fast-Track traveler must undergo COVID-19 testing and show a negative result. 


We understand that the airline is then responsible for ensuring that each traveler has the requisite invitation letter for the Fast Track, a timely negative COVID-19 test result, a return air ticket, and a valid visa. The airline is likely to deny boarding to anyone who does not have these items.


Upon arrival in China, Fast-Track passengers need to undergo another COVID-19 test at their own expense and will be required to stay in a designated location until the test results are delivered. Upon confirmation of a negative test result, we understand that the employer needs to ensure that the employee will reside, work, and travel within a closed circuit. 


For example, the traveler should be transported between the employees designated and approved accommodation and the workplace for the initial 14-day period, as the employees are not permitted to use public transport during this time. Fast-Track travelers will be required to register and use the local Health Kit to demonstrate their status.  


In addition, employers and travelers should be aware that some jurisdictions may require the traveler to remain in government-designated quarantine for 14 days.


TRAVEL FROM THE UNITED STATES VIA OTHER CHANNELS


In response to an urgent need for business executives from the United States to return to the PRC for work, the PRC government created two channels to process visa applicationsthe Green Channel and the Regular Channeland just opened another as of July 1 through the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce (SCOFCOM).

Green Channel


The Green Channel is only available to employees seeking to return to one of the following 11 provinces and municipalities:


Shanghai

Tianjin

Chongqing

Liaoning

Shandong

Jiangsu

Guangdong

Shaanxi

Sichuan

Anhui

Zhejiang


We understand that this track is applicable only to the employee and does not extend to family members.


Applicants traveling to one of the cities or provinces listed above must complete a special application form (), which should be submitted to the Chinese embassy or relevant Chinese consulate in the United States. 


Similar to the regular channel, this application should also stress the necessity of the employees presence in China and the companys financial contribution to the local economy and/or the PRC in general. Applications should also be supported with confirmed flight reservations.


If the approval is issued, the Commercial Section should notify the applicant to begin to apply for a visa from the Chinese embassy or local consulate. Once the application is approved, the embassy or local consulate will issue a new visa and a letter to the applicant, which the applicant should carry when travelling.


Individuals who apply under the Green Channel must obtain a negative nucleic acid test 72 hours prior to departure for China and obtain a written document proving the negative result.


Regular Channel


Companies can also submit applications for invitation letters for their employees from their district FAO. 


This application process is available for any foreign executive and their family members, but the process itself is not uniform across cities or even within the same city. For example, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, each of Shanghais 16 district FAOs has its own application procedure.


In order to use this option, a representative of the sponsoring company for the applicant(s) currently located in the United States can sponsor and initiate an application for an invitation letter with the local municipal or provincial authorities.


[2] In the application, the sponsor must highlight why the visa applicant is essential, irreplaceable, and currently needed in the PRC. The sponsor should also stress the economic contribution that the company has made to the local economy because this is also a factor considered by the relevant district FAO, which will review the application.


If the local authorities approve the application, the applicant will receive an official invitation letter. The applicant then needs to apply for a visa from the Chinese embassy or local consulate in the United States and submit a health declaration to the Chinese authorities. We understand that this special visa application requires proof of a confirmed flight reservation.


SCOFCOM


Companies may now apply through SCOFCOM instead of the local district FAO. SCOFCOM will review initial applications and then forward them to the Shanghai FAO, so this channel may be faster than the regular channel, as it bypasses the application at the district level.


ARRIVAL IN CHINA


Upon arrival in China, travelers should expect to spend 14 days in a government-designated quarantine facility, unless special circumstances apply. In addition, additional testing for COVID-19 will be administered. If, however, any other traveler on the same flight tests positive for COVID-19 upon arriving in China, then different and/or additional procedures will likely apply.


Given the recent outbreak in Beijing, it is not likely that the PRC government will open its borders without limitation in the near future. Companies should therefore consider making applications for their expatriates and monitor if they have employees in countries that have signed travel agreements with the PRC. 


However, as noted above, the process is riddled with uncertainty and opaque processes. Patience is required, and alternative planning in the near future should be considered.


RETURN TO WORK RESOURCES


We have developed many customizable resources to support employers efforts in safely returning to work. 


These include tracking of state and local orders on return to work requirements and essential/nonessential work; policy templates and guidelines for key topics such as social distancing procedures, temperature testing, and workplace arrangements for high-risk employees; and webinar training on safety measures for return to work. 


View the full list of return to work resources and consult our workplace reopening checklist.






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Routes For US employees to enter China

Source: https://www.morganlewis.com/


Entry into the Peoples Republic of China for employees of US companies is possible through certain limited routes, including the Regular Channel and Green Channel, plus through the newly created Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce.


On March 28, 2020, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) closed its borders to foreigners holding visas or residence permits in an effort to control the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and to focus on the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of PRC nationals from around the world, pursuant to an announcement made on March 26, 2020. The announcement provided exemptions for necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities and emergency humanitarian needs. Since the announcement issued in March, the PRC government has issued new, special visas to foreigners who are deemed essential for the purposes listed in the announcement.


In June, in an effort to facilitate the entry of employees deemed essential for business operations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of the PRC and select local governments within the PRC have implemented some additional options for foreigners to enter the PRC. One option, referred to as the Fast-Track Channel, is only available to nationals of countries that have signed a fast-track agreement with the PRC. 


According to media reports and the MOFA, this group currently includes Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Italy, France, Singapore, Japan, and Korea. We anticipate that this list may soon grow to include additional countries.


The second option for expatriate employees who are currently in the United States and work for US-headquartered companies to enter the country consists of two channels: the Regular Channel and the Green Channel. 


To date, the PRC government has not published anything in writing about these options. Rather, the processes have been communicated through governments, chambers of commerce, and companies seeking to sponsor the return of their expatriate employees to the PRC.


The processes are localized and are not uniform across the country, even varying from district to district within the same municipality. Further, the situation remains very fluid and the processes could be stopped or paused without any notice based on conditions within the PRC, particularly given an outbreak of COVID-19 in Beijing at the time of this writing.


FAST-TRACK CHANNEL


In order to utilize this fast-track option (not available to US employees at this time), a representative of the sponsoring company for the applicants currently located in the countries that signed a fast-track agreement with the PRC can sponsor and initiate an application for an invitation letter with the local municipal or provincial authorities.


[1] In the application, the sponsor must highlight why the visa applicant is essential, irreplaceable, and currently needed in the PRC. The sponsor should also stress the economic contribution that the company has made to the local economy because this is also a factor considered by the relevant district Foreign Affairs Office (FAO), which will review the application.


If the local authorities approve the application, the applicant will receive an official invitation letter. The applicant then needs to apply for a visa from the Chinese embassy in the country where he/she is currently resident and submit a health declaration to the Chinese authorities. We understand that this special visa application requires proof of a confirmed flight reservation.


Within 48 hours of departure, a Fast-Track traveler must undergo COVID-19 testing and show a negative result. 


We understand that the airline is then responsible for ensuring that each traveler has the requisite invitation letter for the Fast Track, a timely negative COVID-19 test result, a return air ticket, and a valid visa. The airline is likely to deny boarding to anyone who does not have these items.


Upon arrival in China, Fast-Track passengers need to undergo another COVID-19 test at their own expense and will be required to stay in a designated location until the test results are delivered. Upon confirmation of a negative test result, we understand that the employer needs to ensure that the employee will reside, work, and travel within a closed circuit. 


For example, the traveler should be transported between the employees designated and approved accommodation and the workplace for the initial 14-day period, as the employees are not permitted to use public transport during this time. Fast-Track travelers will be required to register and use the local Health Kit to demonstrate their status.  


In addition, employers and travelers should be aware that some jurisdictions may require the traveler to remain in government-designated quarantine for 14 days.


TRAVEL FROM THE UNITED STATES VIA OTHER CHANNELS


In response to an urgent need for business executives from the United States to return to the PRC for work, the PRC government created two channels to process visa applicationsthe Green Channel and the Regular Channeland just opened another as of July 1 through the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce (SCOFCOM).

Green Channel


The Green Channel is only available to employees seeking to return to one of the following 11 provinces and municipalities:


Shanghai

Tianjin

Chongqing

Liaoning

Shandong

Jiangsu

Guangdong

Shaanxi

Sichuan

Anhui

Zhejiang


We understand that this track is applicable only to the employee and does not extend to family members.


Applicants traveling to one of the cities or provinces listed above must complete a special application form (), which should be submitted to the Chinese embassy or relevant Chinese consulate in the United States. 


Similar to the regular channel, this application should also stress the necessity of the employees presence in China and the companys financial contribution to the local economy and/or the PRC in general. Applications should also be supported with confirmed flight reservations.


If the approval is issued, the Commercial Section should notify the applicant to begin to apply for a visa from the Chinese embassy or local consulate. Once the application is approved, the embassy or local consulate will issue a new visa and a letter to the applicant, which the applicant should carry when travelling.


Individuals who apply under the Green Channel must obtain a negative nucleic acid test 72 hours prior to departure for China and obtain a written document proving the negative result.


Regular Channel


Companies can also submit applications for invitation letters for their employees from their district FAO. 


This application process is available for any foreign executive and their family members, but the process itself is not uniform across cities or even within the same city. For example, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, each of Shanghais 16 district FAOs has its own application procedure.


In order to use this option, a representative of the sponsoring company for the applicant(s) currently located in the United States can sponsor and initiate an application for an invitation letter with the local municipal or provincial authorities.


[2] In the application, the sponsor must highlight why the visa applicant is essential, irreplaceable, and currently needed in the PRC. The sponsor should also stress the economic contribution that the company has made to the local economy because this is also a factor considered by the relevant district FAO, which will review the application.


If the local authorities approve the application, the applicant will receive an official invitation letter. The applicant then needs to apply for a visa from the Chinese embassy or local consulate in the United States and submit a health declaration to the Chinese authorities. We understand that this special visa application requires proof of a confirmed flight reservation.


SCOFCOM


Companies may now apply through SCOFCOM instead of the local district FAO. SCOFCOM will review initial applications and then forward them to the Shanghai FAO, so this channel may be faster than the regular channel, as it bypasses the application at the district level.


ARRIVAL IN CHINA


Upon arrival in China, travelers should expect to spend 14 days in a government-designated quarantine facility, unless special circumstances apply. In addition, additional testing for COVID-19 will be administered. If, however, any other traveler on the same flight tests positive for COVID-19 upon arriving in China, then different and/or additional procedures will likely apply.


Given the recent outbreak in Beijing, it is not likely that the PRC government will open its borders without limitation in the near future. Companies should therefore consider making applications for their expatriates and monitor if they have employees in countries that have signed travel agreements with the PRC. 


However, as noted above, the process is riddled with uncertainty and opaque processes. Patience is required, and alternative planning in the near future should be considered.


RETURN TO WORK RESOURCES


We have developed many customizable resources to support employers efforts in safely returning to work. 


These include tracking of state and local orders on return to work requirements and essential/nonessential work; policy templates and guidelines for key topics such as social distancing procedures, temperature testing, and workplace arrangements for high-risk employees; and webinar training on safety measures for return to work. 


View the full list of return to work resources and consult our workplace reopening checklist.






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