International Students and the Chinese Work Visa

Savannah Billman investigates the visa restrictions international students at NYU Shanghai face while searching for jobs in China.

Post-graduation plans are difficult at NYU Shanghai, due to visa issues and the fact that no one has graduated from NYU Shanghai before. To help clarify what plans can be made after graduating, OCA investigated the issue of whether foreign students can obtain work visas for China immediately after graduation

Previously, Chinese law stated that non-Chinese students needed at least two years of post-graduate working experience before being legally hired by a company in China. However, a month ago the policy changed to include an “experimental” clause that gives students a chance to work in China directly upon graduation. There is, however, a catch–the policy is only in effect in the Shanghai Pilot Free-Trade Zone, which includes areas around the Pudong Airport, Waigaoqiao, Lujiazui Financial and Trade Zone, and Jinqiao Economic and Technological Development Zone, among others.

The new law regarding work visas is actually far more comprehensive. “They issued the policy not only for [the work visa] issue, but for thirty different items,” said Chancellor Lizhong Yu. “One item is about how to attract overseas talent to work in the free trade zone, and in this item there is one part: if foreign students study in a Chinese university–even undergraduates–they’ve got a chance to be employed by an organization or company in the free trade zone.” At least for now, students who wish to work in other areas of Shanghai outside the free trade zone will have to first legally work for two years before applying for jobs in China.

As with NYU Shanghai itself, the policy is new so it will take some effort on part of both students and employers to navigate. “Many employers that we have asked regarding the new change have indicated openness to considering international students that have high Mandarin fluency and necessary qualifications, but hiring decisions will be treated on an individual case by case level,” explained Jane Hsu Southwick, Assistant Director of the Career Development Center (CDC).

NYU Shanghai has a variety of opportunities to assist students in their job search. Through On-Campus Recruitment programs, career counseling, and NYU Shanghai’s Career Net, the CDC will offer any help they can to students in their career planning and keeping track of China’s visa laws and requirements. Both Southwick and Yu identified perhaps the simplest way a student seeking to work in China (but outside of the free trade zone) can get two years’ work experience and eventual transfer back into the country: “You can be employed by an international company outside of China, and then get your two years,” said Yu.

The work visa process itself, however, is out of NYU Shanghai’s hands. The university can assist as far as the job search and providing necessary documentation to help students process their work visas, but has little control over the actual visa-granting process. “Work visas are not managed on the university end but on the employer end,” clarified Southwick. “There are no plans to hire anyone to manage this piece because we would not be able to influence or assist with any visa processes.”

The Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone includes both Lujiazui and Jinqiao–home of the NYU Shanghai campus and residence halls. This, perhaps, is no coincidence. Yu, a congressman for the city of Shanghai, has campaigned for this “opening up” of the work visa policy several times. “I’ve used my power to write a proposal to the congress, saying Shanghai is an international city–it should be more open-door and attract more international talents to work in the city,” said Yu. “This kind of policy is much easier to prove [in the free trade zone].” Yu has high hopes for the experiment of NYU Shanghai, and this small policy change represents a belief in the success of the graduating class. “NYU Shanghai doesn’t only bring education, we want NYU Shanghai’s talents to pay a more important role for the whole region,” said Yu.

This article was written by Savannah Billman with research contributed with Amy de Cillis. Please send an email to to get in touch.
Photo Credit: China Discovery

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