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Updates on when the China border will reopen for ESL teachers

On 28th March 2020 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China made the decision to temporarily close the borders to nearly all foreigners, even those with existing work visas and resident permits at the time, in an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19. Any visa that was issued before 28th March 2020 will no longer be valid.

“The suspension is a temporary measure that China is compelled to take in light of the outbreak situation and the practices of other countries. China will stay in close touch with all sides and properly handle personnel exchanges with the rest of the world under the special circumstances.”
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China

If your visa was issued after 28th March 2020 you will be allowed to enter China. China has recently started issuing PU letters (invitation letters) to some schools for their English teachers outside of China to apply for work visas and enter China. More details provided below.

COVID cases under control in China

Through various measures, China has managed to contain the spread of COVID-19 and numbers of new cases have been at or close to zero since March. Schools across China have been open for face to face classes since May and June, with safety guidelines in place such as mask wearing, temperature checking, social distancing and regular disinfection of facilities. Business and travel within China has been back to normal for some time now. You can read more about the COVID situation in China here.

The demand for English teachers in China is higher than ever. If you are interested in applying for teaching jobs in China, whether or not you are currently in China, please browse our Job Board.

When will English teachers be allowed to enter China?

Technically the China border is open and there are flights into China, the issue is that it is still quite difficult for schools to obtain the require “PU letter” (invitation letter) needed for teachers to apply for a work visa and enter China.

UPDATE 12th August: We have heard from some schools in Beijing and Shanghai that they have successfully obtained PU letters for their teachers outside China. This can be used by teachers to apply for a work visa and to enter China and start work.

“China has signed fast track agreements with Germany, France, South Korea, UK, Japan, and Singapore. Other countries that are reportedly on the list of the “fast track, green channel” program also include Italy and Switzerland. For now, “fast track, green channel” program is for business people of key sectors, such as logistics, technical business and financial services”.

This China Briefing article outlines the steps and requirements needed for obtaining approval to enter China and the procedures for entering. This article also gives details on the Fast Track agreement for British business people travelling to China for key sectors.

How do I get a PU letter (invitation letter)

Your school has to apply for a PU letter for you at the China Foreign Affairs Office. The school will need to submit all the standard documents that are usually required (degree, TEFL (in some cases), clean criminal background check, medical check (in some cases), along with a letter explaining why they have employed you and need you to enter to China for work.

If the PU letter is granted, the school will then send it to you and you can take it to the Chinese embassy to apply for the work visa and then enter China.

Chinese embassy announces most Europeans with China work visa can re-enter China

On 10th August the Chinese embassy in Denmark posted this announcement, stating:

“As the prevention and control of COVID-19 become regular, in order to facilitate exchanges, China now decides that, foreign nationals from the countries listed below who hold valid residence permits, including work permit, permit for family reunion and personal matters, may apply for visas for free at any Chinese embassy or consulate in these countries. After entering China, they are kindly requested to comply with the epidemic prevention regulations of the local governments.”

This is exciting news and a positive sign that China is starting to welcome foreigners back in to the country. It seems like this announcement applies to Europeans who already hold a work visa, in other words, they were previously working in China, then left and could not get back in to the country when the borders were closed in March 2020.

From 18th August 2020 the Chinese Visa Application Service Center in the UK announced that they are accepting work visa applications for:

1 – “British citizen and applicant from any of the 35 other European countries who is holding a valid Foreigner’s Residence Permit of China for work, private matters or family reunion, and needs to go to China for the same visiting purpose as shown on the Residence Permit.”

2 – “Applicant who has an “Invitation Letter (PU/TE)” or “Verification Confirmation of Invitation” issued by the Foreign Affairs Office of the provincial government of the intended visit, to visit China for economic, trade, scientific, technological, culture or sport purposes”

So this means if you already have a work permit you can apply for a work visa to re-enter China. Additionally, if your school can obtain an ‘invitation letter / PU letter’ for you, you can use that to apply for a work visa to enter China.

Air China to increase flights from South Africa to China from September

Air China announces flights from Johannesburg, South Africa to Shenzhen / Beijing in China every Wednesday on the Chinese embassy’s website.

“From September 2nd, Air China will open a total of 8 flights from Johannesburg to Shenzhen / Beijing that meet China’s domestic “five one” standards and South Africa’s second and higher ban period standards. The dates are: September 2, 9, and 16, 23, 30, October 7, 14, 21 (every Wednesday).”

A negative COVID test is required before boarding the plane, as announced on the Chinese embassy’s website here.

“As from 1st September 2020, foreign passengers traveling from or transiting through South Africa or Eswatini to China or ultimately bound for China via any other countries must apply for Health Declaration Forms by submitting their COVID-19 negative certificates for nucleic acid tests to Chinese embassies or consulates.”

Work visa application process

In most cases, to secure a ‘Z’ work visa required for working in China, you need to:

– Bachelor’s degree – notarised by issuing body and and authenticated by Chinese embassy
– 120 hour TEFL certificate – notarised by issuing body and and authenticated by Chinese embassy
– Clean criminal background check – issued within 6 months – notarised by issuing body and and authenticated by Chinese embassy
– Medical check – issued within 6 months

These documents are then sent to your school and are used to apply for an “invitation letter” (also known as a PU letter) to work in China. You then use the invitation letter from the school to apply for a Z work visa at your local Chinese embassy.

Given the lockdowns and reduced hours at offices around the world due to COVID, there have been significant delays for teachers getting their documents notarised and authenticated. Due to these delays, it is highly recommended that you begin the process of getting your documents authenticated as soon as possible, so when the China border does open to English teachers, you will be ready to make the move.

We are in regular contact with various visa agents that can give useful advice and assist with the required steps for the visa application process. 

The major issue right now is that even if you have all the required documents, China is only issuing new work visas in rare cases and for select nationalities, which is the final step of the process.

Negative COVID-19 test before flying

Once work visas are issued to English teachers again, they will then be allowed to enter China. The Civil Aviation Administration of China announced the requirement for passengers flying in to China to present a negative COVID-19 nucleic acid test before boarding the plane.

“Chinese and foreign passengers on China-bound flights shall complete COVID-19 nucleic acid tests within 5 days before boarding. Tests shall be carried out in facilities designated or recognized by overseas Chinese Embassies or Consulates. Foreign passengers should apply with the Chinese Embassies or Consulates for the Health Declaration Letter with negative test results of COVID-19.”

Quarantine for people flying in to China

The majority of foreigners who enter China, unless they are on the ‘Fast Track’ program, will be required to quarantine for 14 days. You may have the option to quarantine at home, if the rules in your city allow it and your home meets the requirements. Otherwise, you will be required to quarantine at a government designed hotel. The European Chamber has compiled a list of quarantine procedures for various Chinese cities on 29th July 2020 here.

Here’s an article from someone who went through the quarantine in Shanghai back in March 2020.

Here’s an article about a family that underwent home quarantine in March 2020.

“Starting from 27th July, passengers entering Shanghai from the overseas who have a place of residence in Shanghai, and meet the conditions of home quarantine (one household one quarantine subject or family, or the co-residents promise to stay quarantined together), can now choose to undergo a seven-day centralised quarantine and another seven days of home quarantine instead of a 14-day centralised quarantine. Passengers who apply for seven days of home quarantine will undergo a COVID-19 test on the fifth day of their centralised quarantine. If the test result is negative, on the eighth day one will be transferred with designated vehicle to their home. The home quarantine subjects and their co-residents will undergo another COVID-19 test before they are released from the home quarantine.”

All international flights to Beijing are currently being redirected to one of 16 other cities (Chengdu, Changsha, Hefei, Lanzhou, Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, Taiyuan, Huhhot, Jinan, Qingdao, Nanjing, Shenyang, Dalian, Zhengzhou, Xi’an, Wuhan), starting from 8th June.

Once travellers with negative RNA test results complete their 14-day mandatory quarantine in these other cities, if they proceed to Beijing on the same or following day, they will not be subject to further mandatory quarantine requirements in the capital. Otherwise, he/she will be subject to another 14-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival in Beijing. “

“All will be subject to a nucleic acid test and quarantine. Any travellers with abnormal symptoms will be immediately brought to hospital. All travellers landed will need to quarantine for 14 days at government designated hotels in Shenzhen.”

Details on quarantine procedure for other cities in China are listed here.

Quarantine costs

The Chinese government covers the cost of the COVID-19 testing. However the cost of the quarantine hotel and food is not covered. Typically the cost is around 350 RMB per day (approx. 50 USD). We have spoken to schools around China and some of them are prepared to cover the cost of the entire quarantine period including food. Please check with your school on whether or not they will cover the cost for you.

Schools in China announcements on quarantine

“Our onboarding team is working to make sure they have precise details before you can get on a flight. For now, there are two things we can say for sure. The first is that the school will be covering the cost of the quarantine for you. The second is that we will be coordinating the arrival times of our new incoming employees so that we can work to make it as convenient for you as possible.”

School in Beijing

“Candidates that do not need to be quarantined by the government will do the self quarantine at the dorms. If an individual needs to be quarantined by the government we will go ahead and cover the costs.”

School in Shanghai

A number of schools we spoke to have confirmed that they will run teacher training / orientation sessions while the teacher is in quarantine. That way, the teacher’s salary will be paid starting from the training in quarantine. Some will also have teachers begin teaching online during the quarantine. This may not be the case with all schools, so please confirm directly with your school.

Treatment & vaccines

There are currently more than 165 vaccine candidates being tracked by the World Health Organisation. 12 vaccines are in phase 2 trials and 6 vaccines are in phase 3 trials, which involves giving the vaccine to thousands of people for testing. After phase 3 the next step is approval. There is 1 vaccine that has already been approved for limited use. Here are some articles that go into more detail:

New York Times COVID Vaccine Tracker

Coronavirus vaccine tracker: How close are we to a vaccine? – The Guardian

WHO – Draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines (3rd August)

Coronavirus: Oxford vaccine triggers immune response – BBC (20th July)

Trial of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine starts in Brazil (28th June)

Moderna eyes third quarter for first doses of potential COVID-19 vaccine with Catalent deal – Reuters (23rd June)

Coronavirus vaccine: Are we close to finding one? – Cnet (2nd July)

Pfizer reports encouraging, very early vaccine test results – The Associated Press (1st July)

CanSino’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate approved for military use in China – Reuters (29th June)

Operation Warp Speed (OWS) aims to deliver 300 million doses of a safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19 by January 2020 – Health &