July 24, 2020

Update on China and Hong Kong Covid-19 related immigration

Despite social and economic norms returning in China, the country continues to maintain strict entry restrictions and quarantine measures for mainland China. However, the recent new wave of the virus in Hong Kong has led to the Hong Kong Government reintroducing social distancing measures to combat the resurgence.

What has changed?



The authorities in China are maintaining the general arrival-ban for all foreigners, irrespective of their country of departure. Other than those with a special exemption, all non-Chinese nationals are not currently permitted to enter, even if they hold valid visas, and work and resident permits. Over recent weeks there has however been an increase in exemptions being made for selected companies who can apply for a special government (PU) Invitation Letter for their employees, on the grounds that they are considered ‘essential to business operations’. Applications for such invitation letters are handled through the district’s Foreign Affairs Office and Municipal Commission of Commerce in the selected destination and apply to both assignees already holding a valid work permit, as well as new applicants. Additionally, several foreign Chambers of Commerce have been working with the Chinese authorities to prepare specially chartered planes to return executives of their members back to China after a prolonged absence and there are also reports of several carriers adding more regular international flights into China.

With regards to quarantine, all arrivals are experiencing long and complex arrival procedures. This does vary subject to the location, but delays are typically several hours. All entrants at city airports are required to take a compulsory Covid-19 nucleic acid test before being permitted to more on to any prearranged accommodation.

Significantly, some countries have been granted the additional option to apply for Fast-Track Arrival processing, which essentially allows assignees to go through a reduced quarantine period upon arrival. Anyone else arriving from abroad will need to complete 14-day quarantine either at their home residence or at a government-directed facility.

Domestically, China has now lifted all local travel quarantine restrictions for almost all locations, allowing residents and assignees to move freely within the country.

We previously issued alerts that advised that as a result of Covid-19, foreign nationals already in mainland China whose permits are due to expire should be able to have their Entry Visas and Residence Permits automatically extended for two months to allow for delays in the reapplication process. This does not however apply to those who entered China after March 28th with a new special entry visa. Further to this the labour bureau confirmed that there would be no punitive actions taken against individuals if any renewal delay was caused by bureau or medical centers being closed during this time of crisis.

We also previously advised that although new work permit applications continue to be accepted online and face to face original document verification for most applications is currently not needed, for new residence permit applications, physical presence at the local bureaus is still required and this continues to be the case at this point in time. We can also still expect there to be some delays due to backlog at the Labour and Exit and Entry Bureau and for medical centers in most cities to continue only permitting foreigners to complete their check-up after 14 days of having arrived in the city.

Beijing specific Developments:
In mid-June there was a localized outbreak of Coronavirus at a wholesale market. Consequently, Beijing has undertaken a large-scale mass testing program, with several million people being tested in the last month. Further to this, some districts have extended social distancing measures in place and some social and food and beverage venues throughout the city have closed and temperature and ‘green code’ health checks are still in place at many locations. However, day to day social and economic activities in the rest of the city, have largely returned to normal.


Hong Kong

Hong Kong has recently experienced a resurgence in local transmission of the Covid-19 virus. In response, the Hong Kong government has implemented measures such as: mandatory wearing of masks on transport, restaurant closures and public gatherings to be reduced from fifty people to four.
Further to this, the inbound travel ban continues for non-Hong Kong residents arriving from overseas and a mandatory 14-day home (or other accommodation) quarantine order for Hong Kong residents coming from overseas is in place.

The Hong Kong Immigration Department is currently operating as usual, but we are expecting delays due to measures taken to control the new outbreak.

For further information on Covid-19 related immigration matters for China and Hong Kong, please contact the Sterling Lexicon immigration team at immigration@sterlinglexicon.com


Leanne Cottrell

Leanne Cottrell

As Head of Immigration with Sterling Lexicon, Leanne leads a team of specialists who are responsible for ensuring the entire immigration process is smooth and stress-free for clients, assignees and their accompanying family members. She brings over ten years of experience in strategic immigration management, planning and consultation to her role, and has cultivated invaluable knowledge and experience in processing countless global migration applications. As a trusted partner, she consults with clients on everything from policy considerations and cost or efficiency improvements, to the impact of opening offices in new locations. Leanne is a frequent presenter and author on global immigration topics and trends.

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