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As Startup Visas in Major Chinese Cities Prove Successful, Expect Nationwide Roll-out


Over the past few years, China has increasingly promoted the concept of “mass entrepreneurship and innovation” and implemented policies to promote it nationwide. Now, China is extending the target audience of this concept to include foreign nationals.

Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau, as early as in May 2018, had already launched a brand-new “private affairs” category of residence permit (entrepreneurship), colloquially referred to as a “Startup Visa”, which allowed foreign entrepreneurs to live in China while engaged in entrepreneurship and innovation.

Among the first foreigners to obtain an entrepreneur visa in Shanghai – China’s most representative city in terms of “mass entrepreneurship and innovation” – was a young Frenchman, Marc Olivier. Olivier is known in China as an “idea man” and has been working in Shanghai for many years. He quit his job at the beginning of 2018 and work on his own entrepreneurial ventures within China. Without formal employment, finding a qualifying visa category to permit him to stay in the country became a challenge. What helped him solve this long-standing obstacle, however, was the emergence of Shanghai’s startup visa.

Who qualifies for a startup visa in China?

Applicants who meet the below conditions are eligible to apply for a startup visa.

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  • International students currently enrolled in one of Shanghai’s institutes of higher learning and who have the stated intention to engage in part-time entrepreneurship in “mass entrepreneurship and innovation-accredited” science and technology parks, incubators, and maker spaces in specific areas (say, Yangpu District, Changning District, and so on).
  • “Excellent” foreign graduates from Chinese top-level universities or world-renowned universities outside of China who graduated no more than two years prior to applying and who have made “outstanding” achievements in entrepreneurship and innovation.

Compared to the more rigidly defined conventional visas, the Shanghai startup visa offers several distinct advantages.

  • It permits talented, young individuals a greater degree of flexibility to engage in innovation and entrepreneurship in China without needing a full-time job to sponsor their residence permit.
  • It allows them to engage in the preliminary work related to starting a business (business development, recruitment, finding an office, market research etc) for some time before they need to formally establish their company in China.
  • The startup visa, furthermore, provides a path to permanent residence status in China. Current regulations stipulate that individuals who have worked in the country for more than three years and who file documents demonstrating their contribution to the local economy (such as certificates of capital injections, tax slips, and university diplomas) are eligible to apply for permanent residence in the country.

Other major municipalities in China have introduced similar schemes – Chengdu was among the first – and, if the past practices of the Chinese government are anything to go by – once startup visas prove their merit, we expect authorities to extend the program nationwide.

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Luc Lu is a decade-long veteran of the Chinese Investment Migration Industry, founder of several firms in that market, and official partner of Investment Migration Insider, responsible for China-based activities.

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