“Basic to the Chinese concept of social beings is the fundamental idea that people are not created equal and that circumstances of their birth, upbringing and environment inexorably widens the gap separating them.” So writes Boye Lafayette DeMente, in his book, China’s Cultural Code Words. It is part of his entry under the word Jieji (class, or level), and is helpful in understanding the role of classifications and categories in Chinese culture and society.
Shortly after the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Chinese citizens were placed into one of five categories: peasants, workers, soldiers, cadres (government bureaucrats), and leaders. Previously legal classifications, today they primarily indicate a person’s social (or political) status.
During the recent campaign to expel migrant workers from Beijing, one of the slogans called for the removal of the diduan (低端)—“lower end”—population from the city. While the public use of the term triggered consternation (especially online), everyone understood what it meant.
Foreigners seeking to work in China have not been spared classification. Responsibility for classifying and managing foreigners in the country has rested with the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs. A “foreign expert” was one who was granted permission to work in China, usually within a specific field for which China needed outside expertise, such as high-tech or English education.
Until early last year, a foreigner applying for a work visa had to obtain a certificate of work and a Foreign Experts Certificate. Now that process has been streamlined to simply needing one work permit.
Under the slogan of “Encourage the Top End, Limit the Ordinary, Restrict the Low End,” the new system rates foreigners and assigns them to one of three categories:
- Class A: top talent
- Class B: professional talent
- Class C: unskilled workers (labor and service industries)
Determination of which category one falls in is done by means of a point system. This applies points based on qualifications such as salary, education, related work experience, overall work experience, Chinese language proficiency, geographical location (higher points for working in under-developed areas), age, rank of school or company, and the need of the area where one intends to work.
The company INS Global Consulting has a “points calculator” that you can use to determine your score. And for additional information on the visa points calculator and how to apply for a visa, see “China Work Visa Points Calculator and Work Permit System Explained.”
Foreigners who have been working in China, and already had permits in hand, have had to re-apply using this new system in 2017. All those hoping to apply for first-time work permits in the future will be required to go through this process.
In general, most foreigners who are working in professional fields such as education, technology, business, or medicine will be in the Class B category. CEOs of multi-national corporations or professors from elite universities may be included in Class A.
For help in determining how you rate as a foreigner, I recommend the following articles and resources:
China Work Permits: Are You an A, B, or C Tier Talent? (July 19, 2017, China Briefing)
China’s New Work Visa Policy (INS Global Consulting)
China Work Visa Points Calculator and Work Permit System Explained. (July 3, 2018, New Horizons, Global Partners)
For current information on the application process see:
How to Get a Work Visa in China (Z Visa), (August 13, 2019, Sky Executive)
Editor's Note: This article was updated on September 5, 2019.
Image credit: By Kristoferb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio