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What should I do if my boss takes my passport and won’t give it back?

Firstly, know this: in China, employers do not have the right to hold back the identification cards or passports of any employee. Nevertheless, some employers do so in order to keep foreign staff from running away without completing their work contract. While employers can legally hold a photocopy of your passport, just as they would a photocopy of their Chinese staff’s personal ID cards, they cannot keep the original copy of the ID. 

If you find this happening to you, report your employer to the police, and let them get your passport back. When going to the police station, bring your Alien Employment book, your Registration form of Temporary Residence, and any other ID you can use to prove you are living and working legally in China. Of course, if you can take along a Chinese-speaking friend then that will make the process a lot easier.


Things to consider 

Keeping a person’s ID or passport without their permission is very rare in China, especially in the major cities, so don’t panic if you think it might be happening to you – everything is almost certainly fine.

If your company is offering to process your visa for you, then they will have to take your passport (along with various other documents) in order to do so. This could take up to a month, or maybe a little more depending on your location, your company’s agents and other factors, so don’t panic if you don’t get it back straight away. The HR manager at your company should be able to give you an estimate for when you will get your visa back. If there are other foreign employees, talk to them for their thoughts on the issue. 

Going to the police should be treated as the ‘nuclear option’ – the one you fall back on if other avenues are not working for you. Talk to your boss first; it could be that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why your passport’s return has been delayed, and you can’t expect to hold onto your job if you report your boss to the police (although if your boss actually has stolen your passport then you probably don’t want to work for him or her in the long term anyway). 

Also, if you are not in China on the correct visa/permit (most probably a work permit/Z Visa combination if you are in the employ of a Chinese person or company) then you may find yourself facing deportation once the police become aware of your situation. You will also not have recourse to pursue the protections put in place by law to help employees if you do not have a Z Visa and work permit (although obviously theft of a passport is a criminal case, not a private one, so should be dealt with by the police).

Of course, they can’t deport you if you don’t have a passport. But once you get it back, if you don’t have the right visa you may be forced to either leave the country or switch to a 30-day tourist passport.

And finally, police investigations are not always swift, even if you think it’s an open-and-shut case. Don’t commit to this path unless you have no other options.


Getting a new passport

Once you have reported the theft of your passport to the police, they should give you a document that confirms that you have registered it lost or stolen. You should be able to use this to get another passport from your country’s embassy or consulate in China, or apply for an emergency travel document that will allow you to leave China and return to your own country. You may need (or be asked for, at least) a photocopy of your passport, so make and keep one of them before you hand over your passport to anyone.


Ways to avoid having your passport kept without your permission

  1. Talk to other foreigners that have worked, or are working, at the same company and see if they have had any bad experiences. You can also talk to other foreigners in your city – expat communities tend to be relatively small, even in cities like Beijing, and bad word gets around.
  2. As mentioned above, make sure you are working legally in China. If you are in the country on anything other than a Z Visa you do not have any employment rights, and in the event that your status is found out by the police you may face deportation. Some employers exploit this to keep their employees’ passports in a spirit of Mutually Assured Destruction. 
  3. Do not give your passport to your boss, even if they just say they want it to make a photocopy – prepare photocopies beforehand (you should have at least one filed away in case you lose your passport and need to get another).
  4. Apply for a visa, visa renewal or visa extension by yourself (or through an agent that you have personally hired). This will mean doing a lot of paperwork, however, and – as mentioned above – the instances of employees keeping passports are so few that you will probably just be making a problem for yourself needlessly. Still, if you have reason to be concerned about your future employer, this avenue should be open to you. A list of required documents can be found on this page.


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