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UPDATE on PU Letter requirements
For those who have been fully vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines produced in China, and can provide an official certificate, a PU Letter will no longer be required in some circumstances. Unfortunately, the circumstances have been described as "necessary business activities in various fields", so you will have to check your situation individually.
The need to provide 2 negative IgM test results, as well as complete standard quarantine in China is still required, even if you have been fully vaccinated. This is designed to make it easier for those looking to return, or relocate to China as per the pre-pandemic.
The changes in Visa application document requirements
Previous to the Coronavirus pandemic, anyone wishing to apply for a Z-Visa to work in China could apply for a position and then deal directly with their employer to organise the paperwork. Further requirements have now been re-introduced which sees additional steps added to the application process which must be completed before you are even able to apply for the visa itself.
The PU Letter for China, also sometimes called an Invitation Letter, is a government issued document which you must possess before you are able to attend the Visa Application Service Centre and apply for a Z-Visa. They are also required for M or Q1/Q2 Visas.
These were a standard part of the application process up until around 5 years ago, when the Chinese government sought to streamline the procedure and scrapped the PU Letter requirement. It was re-introduced at the start of the pandemic to enable tighter controls on the borders.
You may also hear the term “TU Letter”, which is essentially the same process as a PU Letter but are specifically required for anyone wishing to apply for an F Visa (business visa).
What does PU Letter mean?
The PU refers to "pŭtōng" or "普通" in Simplified Chinese, which translates to "ordinary" as they are applied to ordinary passport holders.
Why do I need to be invited to apply for a visa?
Originally, you would present your legalised documents (usually at least a Police Clearance Certificate and a Degree) directly to your employer who would issue you with a work permit. This permit would then be enough for you to submit your Z-Visa application at the Chinese Visa Centre alongside supporting documentation such as the completed application form and your passport.
As China is determined to control the numbers of COVID cases to prevent a further spread throughout the country, they are only allowing individuals to enter the country for government-approved reasons. These include:
- Work reasons – those who hold higher or integral positions in the company within China
- Senior technical experts and support staff who are key to operations
These are the official cases issued by the government, but other reasons for entering the country will be considered if there is a valid and compelling reason for you going to China at this time. If you do not meet the above criteria, you may still be able to have your visa granted if your employer can successfully have the PU Letter issued for you.
There are some exceptions as to whether you will require this document, including foreigners who currently hold a valid residence permit. You will be able to enter China freely if you currently hold valid residency. If you have any other type of visa, including a multi-entry tourist or business visa you will not currently be able to use these to enter China.
How do I get a PU Invitation letter for China?
Only employers are able to apply to the government for a PU Letter; they must do this on your behalf, as you are unable to do so personally. If you come across any agents suggesting they are able to supply this PU letter for you, beware. This will not be a legitimate service and could result in you losing money.
Before an employer can issue PU Letters, they themselves must submit an approval application to their local government office for permission. Their application will be reviewed by government officials who will decide whether their requirements for overseas staffing are valid. If they are approved, they will be then be registered and be given the right to submit PU Letter applications to bring foreign nationals into the country.
Therefore it’s wise to bear in mind that not all employers automatically have the ability to get a PU Letter for you.
Your employer will submit an application to their local Foreign Affairs Office for the invitation, before forwarding it on to you if it has been successfully issued. The letter will be valid for 3 months, in which time you must apply for and complete your visa application before it expires.
When will I receive the PU letter?
Previously, new employees were required to present a copy of their work permit alongside their visa application. This is still the case, as the invitation letter is an addition to the process, rather than a replacement for this document. The work permit is for your Z-Visa application and the PU letter is simply a pass to be allowed to enter the country.
In order for your employer’s local Foreign Affairs office to issue your PU Letter, they will first need to receive the application for your work permit. Once this has been passed, they can then decide whether to issue the additional document for you based on your employment. This process takes around 1 month to be completed.
What if I’m not able to get one from my employer?
We’ve heard of some new recruits being told to simply apply for a visit visa to enter the country and start work, with a promise their employer will convert it to a Z-Visa later. This is to circumvent the PU Letter requirement and this isn’t generally a good idea, especially as it’s illegal to work on any visa type other than a Z-Visa in China.
It may seem like a quicker way to travel and start your new position, but be wary of any such practices being recommended by a new employer. If you get caught out, you could end up in hot water, especially if this is your first time in China and you’ve not previously been granted any permits.
In these cases, it’s best to wait and stay in close contact with your employer, as things are starting to ease in terms of PU Letter issuance.
I’ve got my PU Letter, what do I do next?
Once you have your invitation letter and all of your legalised documentation, you can book an appointment online for the Chinese Visa Centre. If any part of your documentation is missing or not valid, you will be turned away; therefore it’s imperative you ensure everything is correct before you travel to your appointment.
If anything is not correct, you will need to re-book an appointment at a different time and this will cause you delays, especially as appointments are strictly limited at this time.
To find out about the process at the Chinese Visa Centre and what to expect when you attend, see our complete guide here.
If you don’t yet have your documents legalised by the Chinese authorities in their country of issue, you will need to have this process done as soon as possible to avoid your other documents expiring. Police Clearance Documents are also time sensitive, so it’s best to understand the timescales involved and plan the process ahead of time.