Multinational employers continue to closely monitor the latest on the Novel Coronavirus. As the outbreak becomes more widespread, companies with foreign national employees and families in China are starting to feel the impact. Many may wonder how the current circumstances could affect their immigration status. Some employers may consider contingency plans, beyond work-from-home arrangements, to support foreign national employees currently on assignment in China.

Here are key takeaways for employers with an assignee population in China that may want to end their postings early or accommodate temporary residence elsewhere in the region or a return home for a short term until the outbreak situation becomes more clear:

  • Departure from China could impact any work/residence application in process. The immigration strategy must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, as much depends on the work/residence permit expiration date and the current status of the applications.
  • Even short stays in another jurisdiction could trigger additional requirements to secure work/travel authorization for a foreign national in that country.
  • The early termination of an assignment may have wider implications on existing assignment policies including tax, relocation, benefits, and ancillary support.
  • Employers must timely deregister a foreign national’s work permit after the end of their assignment in China. Failure to do so could result in penalties, although mitigating factors may lessen any fines.

As of the date of this alert:

  • Excluding exits through any Wuhan ports, all port visa agencies are operational and visa-free transit for eligible foreign nationals remains in effect.
  • Foreign nationals may enter and leave China with their valid travel documents. Foreign nationals may continue to apply for visas, work, and residence permits in China during the period of epidemic prevention and control. The exit and entry administration (EEA) authorities will continue to provide services, including urgent services in emergency cases. Foreign nationals should make appointments with the EEA authorities in advance.
  • If a foreign national’s visa, work, and/or residence permit expires under the current circumstances, the authorities may exercise discretion to impose a lesser punishment or exempt the foreign national from punishment altogether if the failure to leave China or extend the visa or permit prior to its expiration is due to the current outbreak situation.
  • Several countries have implemented restrictions on travelers arriving from and traveling to the Chinese mainland. On February 2, 2020, the U.S. State Department updated its China travel advisory to Level 4: Do Not Travel. Generally, foreign nationals who have traveled in China within 14 days of their arrival are temporarily barred from entering the United States. U.S. citizens may be subject to quarantine, depending on where they have traveled in China within 14 days of their return. Travelers intending to leave China for other countries should review requirements with the relevant diplomatic mission in China and their air carrier prior to travel.

The situation remains fluid. Local authorities may accommodate changes in filing practices (e.g. special exemption from on-site appearance) depending on the application and supporting documentation from the employer. Employers and their foreign national employees with visa and/or permit applications forthcoming and/or in process should remain in close contact with the local authorities, with the assistance of counsel to navigate them through this uncertain and rapidly developing state of affairs.

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