Beijing's New Policy on Internships for International Students

Jon Santangelo, BOSSA Communications Director

THE PIE NEWS: I know you’re focused mostly on outbound mobility from China but I’m reaching out to see if maybe you could provide insight/comment on the new policy set to begin March 1 facilitating internships, work/study,  entrepreneurship for international students in Beijing’s silicon valley. Source:

Until now, have there been challenges in place international students into internships in China?

Santangelo: Absolutely. Let me first preface; I recruited foreigners for jobs and internships, for two years (between 2012-2014), prior to joining BOSSA. Actually I first came to Beijing on a management traineeship with Hilton hotels in late 2009 through an international exchange organization, AIESEC, the worlds largest student lead nonprofit organization. Back then obtaining a work (Z) visa was easier and I was fortunate to qualify for one prior to my internship.

But now, scarcity has increased due to English speaking overseas returnees (slang: sea turtles) and tighter restrictions for foreigner working visas. Over the last few years, authorities have enforced Z-visa employment working minimum requirements of: a bachelors degree, 2 years of work experience outside of China- after graduation, a criminal background check, health exam, and the business license from the China based employer and their permit to hire foreigners. Most international students don't have two years of working experience after they graduate and some local companies are apprehensive to bring on foreigners as interns.

However this new policy should be positively received and will hopefully encourage international students to embark on internships, alongside easing the hiring process for employers. 

Before the regulation changes and the introduction of the M Visa, most foreigners doing an internship were on an F business trip visa or on a tourist visa. F visas were generally safe, but working under tourist visas were not. It was a high risk on the foreigners' part to work or do an internship on a tourist visa. Punishment was in fines and possible deportation. 
The biggest challenge for most interns was renewing their F visa every several months by exiting and re-entering the country, or hiring an agent to help renew the visa. Some local companies aren't familiar with the renewal process. Often times, foreign interns had to travel abroad, alone (commonly to Hong Kong) to renew a visa.

(Part of my former job as a consultant was advising local companies on how to handle HR aspects of foreign staff).
Fortunately the newly enforced visa, M, is specifically for internships and has a set (start to end) validation period.
Another challenge is the cost of third party internship placement programs, which can range from 1-3,000USD, not including airfare and leisure expenses. Some international students (and parents) can't justify paying an exorbitant amount for an internship, but DIY options can be scarce or confusing. Many employers don't advertise their internship positions and welcome third party agencies to outsource recruitment. However expat websites with social media accounts on WeChat do feature quality employment opportunities consistently.

Is Beijing different from other parts of the country in terms of policy around internships/work study for foreign students?

Not sure, but most jobs are in either Beijing or Shanghai, in companies whom have a permit to hire foreigners. It's less common to work in second or third tier cities. It is legal to intern/ work study under a particular student visa issued by the host university. This has helped some foreign students. Zhonguancan is the Silicon Valley of China whereas tech companies value international talent whom posses IT skills. 

Is staying in the country to work or start a business after graduation a main driver for students studying in China? Do you think this could increase student interest in studying China?

Most students come to learn Chinese language and culture with aspirations of doing business or relations work with China from their home countries. Few seek work or internships thereafter and often return home upon completing studies.
Another phenomenon are Chinese students who return from studying abroad: Whom the more common type to start their own business in China. A majority of foreigners doing entrepreneurial endeavors in China are mature, experienced professionals. But hopefully these new policies will help spark more demand in studying, and staying, in China. There are still valid opportunities to explore. Personally, many friends of mine started off in Beijing as interns years ago and stayed, eventually becoming working professionals.