What Is Illegal Employment And Penalties For Illegal Work

Now Shenzhen   |   November 2, 2023

·About The Author·

  • Author of Chinese Law Books: Intellectual Property, Commercial, Company and Economic Law In A Minute
  • Author of English Law Book Business Law In A Minute
  • Co-Author of Peking University Textbook: Business Ethics
  • Graduated from Fudan University Law School
  • Interviewed by Bloomberg and Timeout
  • Mentor at Bloom Education (Charity)

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CHINA LAW 101: Video 51

This is the 11th video of the Working In  China Chapter.


To watch the video, click the image above.

In today’s video, we will talk about what illegal employment is, and the penalties for doing so.

To understand what it means to work illegally in China, we must first understand the prerequisites for working legally. As an expat in China, you must possess a valid work permit and residence permit to legally work. With this in mind, let us examine the most common types of illegal work in China, which include working under the wrong type of visa, working outside the scope of your work permit, and part-time work for expats.

As previously mentioned, the only legal way to work in China is with a valid work and residence permit. Therefore, any other type of permit is illegal, including the reunion visa, which is issued to accompany family members with kinship in China, such as spouses, brothers, or parents. Working on a business visa is also illegal, as it is intended for conducting business activities in China for your foreign company, such as meeting with factories, suppliers, or clients. Additionally, working on a tourist visa is illegal, as it is intended for sightseeing, not work.


For students, internships with companies related to their studies are legal, as long as they receive approval from their university and the local Public Security Bureau (PSB). For instance, medical students can work at hospitals, pharmacies, or laboratories. However, teaching English is not related to most majors and is therefore illegal.

The second most common type of illegal work is working outside the scope of your work permit, which includes working at the wrong address or under the wrong job title. Some companies may require you to work at different branches on different days to fulfil various responsibilities, such as training centers sending teachers to different classes at different centers. However, this is illegal because your work permit has a specific address on it, and you are only authorized to work at that address. If the PSB scans your work permit and finds that you are at the wrong branch, it will be considered illegal work.


Part-time work for expats is also illegal for the same reason. You would be working for a different company than the one stated on your work permit, and your address would be incorrect as well. Some expats may assume that it is acceptable to teach English to children at home, work as a part-time DJ at nightclubs, or model and act for movies and advertising firms. However, this is entirely wrong and is classified as illegal work because these jobs are not on your work permit.

Working under the wrong job title is also a common form of illegal work. Your correct job title is listed on your work permit, and if you are doing something unrelated to your position, it will be deemed illegal work. For example, training centers used to list teachers under management positions, such as general manager, advertising manager, and human resources manager, when in fact, these expats were teaching English. This is also considered illegal work.

The penalties for illegal work in China are severe, ranging from fines to detention, deportation, and repatriation, depending on the severity of the offense, the duration of the illegal work, and whether or not you have a work permit. Note that an administrative record will be created once you are punished, and this may affect future residence permit applications.