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What will happen if I’m caught with the wrong kind of visa on the Chinese mainland?

Photo by SSgt Fernando Serna

If you’re a foreigner in China it’s very important to always comply with Chinese laws and regulations, and not engage in any activities that either run counter to the purpose of your trip (as specified on your visa application form), or that have not been authorized by the relevant Chinese government authorities. 

If you intend to work in China, you must apply for a work permit from the relevant authorities. The following all constitute working illegally in China:

  1. Working in China without a work permit.
  2. Working in China after the work permit has expired.
  3. Overseas students working full time or beyond what their university’s or college’s work-study programs allow, or doing any business while studying at school.

If you break these rules, you can get in serious trouble.


Punishments for violations

Foreigners who do anything unrelated to their visa type will be ordered to leave the country within a certain period (decided by the police) if they are considered not fit to continue staying in China. This is called being ordered to leave. Serious violators will be deported. These are two different things; for more information see this article.

For those working illegally in China, there may be more serious consequences:

  1. A fine of between 5,000 yuan and 20,000 yuan; the exact amount is at discretion of the police.
  2. In severe cases, foreigners may be placed into custody for 5-15 days as well as having to pay a fine.
  3. They may also be deported or ordered to leave China. 

The punishment will be decided based on the gravity of the violation. However, the law doesn’t specify what circumstances are serious and how to measure them, so ultimately this is based on the judgement of the police. 


What to do if you are caught breaking the law

Try to be polite and explain the reason why you are breaking the law to the best of your ability. Be contrite and apologetic and try to persuade them to give you a lighter punishment. Don’t get angry or be difficult, as this will only make things worse for you.

If your company has lied to you about the kind of visa you are using (for example if they have placed you on a business visa or some other kind of non-work visa) then explain this to the police, again being as polite and apologetic as you can. The company will be fined between 10,000 yuan and 100,000 yuan, and any illegal income they have made will be confiscated. 

Hopefully you will get a lighter punishment from confessing and cooperating, but there will still probably be some kind of consequence to you, even if it’s just paying a small fine and being given a date to leave China. You are still held responsible for your actions while in the country on whichever visa you have been given.


Useful Chinese words and phrases 

非法工作 fēifǎ gōngzuò To work illegally
就业 jiùyè Work/employment
勤工俭学 qíngōng jiǎnxué Work-study program
停留居留事由不相符 tíngliú jūliú shìyóu bú xiāngfú Engaging in activities unrelated to the purpose of the trip as specified on your visa application form
情节严重 qíngjiē yánzhòng Serious circumstances
限期离境 xiànqī líjìng Ordered to leave within a limited time period
驱逐出境 qūzhú chūjìng To be deported
罚款 fákuǎn To fine




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5 Responses to What will happen if I’m caught with the wrong kind of visa on the Chinese mainland?

  • The fake visa they issued expires on the 30 Dec

  • I have a problem incase you are a victim of visa scam but the time you realize it its Vry late you are already in an over stay ,what are the best steps to take and what is likely to happen to you

    • Hi Amaal. We’re not quite sure about the details of your problem. Is the problem that you were tricked into entering China on the wrong visa, or is it that you have overstayed your visa (meaning you have been in the country longer than you were allowed to be)? Or both problems?

      If you have overstayed your visa (whether you were on the right visa or the wrong one), that is what you should be concerned about now. This article explains most of what you need to know, but here is the basic information: If you have overstayed your visa then you should first talk to your embassy and see if they can help you. Most embassies will not help out in this situation, but some embassies of smaller countries may offer some help or advice.

      Otherwise, the official thing to do is to go to the police station and explain your situation. Be very apologetic, explain how you were tricked and how you didn’t mean to overstay. Don’t be rude or argue too much or be aggressive, because the police can decide what to do with you, and that means they can be easier or harder depending on whether they like you or not.

      Depending on how long you have overstayed, you may have to pay a fine, or even go to a jail for 5-15 days. If you have overstayed by a very long period, you may be deported or “ordered to leave”. If you are deported you will be blacklisted from coming back to China at all for 5-10 years. If you are “ordered to leave” you may be banned from working in China for two years, but can still return on (for example) a Tourist Visa. As mentioned, for more information you can see this article.

      You could also try just leaving the country, but there’s obviously the possibility that you will encounter these same problems at the customs desk, and get the same punishments from a less sympathetic officer.

      If you problem is that you are in the country on the wrong visa, but you have not yet overstayed that visa, your situation will be different. Tell us and we’ll try to figure out what your situation means.

      • Before I was on a business visa then the one who tricked me was meant to get me a students visa because my business visa was expiring on the 3 of April so all along he has been giving me excuses until of recent I got to know that the visa is fake and this means am approaching 4months in an overstay and my concern is the forgery issue which may cause me more problems but this month am turning my self in

        • Hi Amaal. We are really sorry to hear about your situation, especially as your case is very tricky. As you have overstayed for months, you could end up with a serious punishment. Intentionally using a forged visa alone could be enough to get someone deported.

          In your case, you could go to the police, explain that you are a victim of a forger, report the agency that forged the visa to the authorities, and tell them that you had no idea that the document was forged until now. You could also explain that you have only overstayed your visa because of the forgers, and not because you intended to break the law.

          All of this might help to get you a more lenient punishment, although this also depends on your intentions when you were given the fake visa. You mentioned that you were originally in Beijing on a Business Visa, but then used the agency to change it over to a Study Visa. If did intend to study and were signed up to an educational organization, then the police will recognize that you intended to behave lawfully and were tricked by the forgers.

          However, if the evidence suggests that you did not intend to use the Student Visa for the purposes of study then the police will assume that you intended to stay in China illegally, and so you risk having a stronger punishment.

          The earlier you report this to police, the better your chance of being given a lighter penalty. 

          If the agency that supplied the faked visa to you is found to have offered up no more than five visas and made less than 300,000 yuan from forgeries, the responsible party will face a maximum of five years of jail time. If the agency offered up more than five visas or made more than 300,000 yuan, then the person responsible may face more than five years in prison. The agency will also face a heavy financial penalty.

          The punishments you might face for overstaying your visa can be found in this article. There are reports regarding foreigners using fake visas or residence permits in China being fined, jailed and deported. We hope that the police will recognize that you are a victim in this case and that you turning in the illegal agency will get you a lighter (or no) punishment. Good luck!

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