Back in late 2016, the Chinese government introduced the much-debated grading system for foreigners applying for China work visas. Expats were quick to calculate their potential score based on several criteria the Chinese government deem relevant to your professional attractiveness.
Photo: Kenneth Lu
While the average expat turned out to be the less-than-braggable B grade, some mystique still surrounds the inner workings of the grading system. What does your ranking actually mean in practice, how do you go about improving it, and why would you want to anyway? Let’s find out!
Since late 2016, the Chinese government has been grading foreigners applying for China work visas according to 10 categories, including Chinese proficiency, your university’s world ranking, your proposed salary and how big your employing company is. For each category an applicant would receive points, which are then added together to calculate a final grade of A, B or C, in descending order.
Below 60 points earns you a C grade, 61- 85 makes you a B grade and 86 and above makes you an A grade foreigner. This grade will the proudly printed on your work permit card once you get it (if ever).
The benefits of being an A grade foreigner are yet to be fully tried and tested. Rumour has it, though, that such desirable foreigners will receive a fast-track service when applying for a work permit, enjoy more relaxed regulations in regards to proving the authenticity of some of the supporting documents, and even receive 10-year visas and permanent residency green cards.
On the other side of the spectrum, a C grade foreigner is expected to come across increasingly strict rules when it comes to getting their China work visa. According to some sources, the number of C-grade foreigners is to be strictly limited, only allowed inside China when unskilled labour is needed if the domestic workforce is either unable or unwilling to do such jobs.
In theory, the grading system makes perfect sense if you considers the future implementation of the Chinese Social Credit System (社会信用系统, shèhuì xìnyòng xìtǒng), which will see Chinese nationals rewarded or punished via a points system for their social actions. In practice, however, if you already have a China work visa, the grading system is simply a way to prove to your peers that you’re better than them.
Before coming to China: So you want to work in China but you’ve calculated your grade and you’re only a B or a C. How do you improve it?
The obvious answer is to get a job offer at a really big company (one of the top 500 global enterprises) with crazy high pay (450, 000 RMB annually and above) and brush up on your Chinese language skills (take and pass at least the HSK 5 test). Easy, right?
Although this is no small task, if you would currently be ranked as a C grade foreigner, you’re far more likely to get your visa if you can up your ranking to a B.
When already in China: But what if you’re already in China with a work permit, proudly stating that you’re a B-grade foreigner and you want to up it to an A like all those pesky expats working at big foreign tech companies in China? Is it really worth trying to improve your grade and, if so, what does the process actually look like?
As it seems most of the benefits of obtaining a high grade come when you’re actually applying for the visa, I would argue that bragging rights are really the only reason to bother climbing up the system. If you’re adamant that’s what you want to do, however, the quickest way is again to improve your Chinese or move up a pay grade.
But since your grade is directly connected to your work permit, you won’t be able to reach a higher grade until the latter is renewed. That means you’ll be stuck as a B grade foreigner for 12 to 24 months, depending on how long your current work permit is valid for.
Another solution is to change your employer. However, that will force you to go through the entire visa and work permit application process again. As a lot of people are acutely aware, obtaining a new visa and work permit takes a lot of time, work, sweat and tears.
Whether or not it’s worth it for a little letter in the corner of your ID card is highly debatable.
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