A new policy released by the Ministry of Education in China earlier this year has granted international students enrolled in degree-granting higher education institutions the right to work while studying.
Students who have been studying for more than one year at their institution will be able to work on or off campus for a maximum of eight hours per week, totalling no more than 40 hours each month.
During the summer and winter holidays, this will double to 16 hours a week and a maximum of 80 hours a month.
Any work undertaken will require approval from the students’ place of study and the local Exit and Entry Bureau. Any change in workplace will also require obtaining an agreement and certificate from the school and re-applying to the bureau.
“This is a new policy for 2022, so we do not know every detail yet. If you want to get a part-time job in China and pursue a work-study, you can communicate with your university’s Career Department or International Students’ Department for more specific information,” wrote Savannah Billman for China Admissions.
The clarification has been particularly welcomed by students who have often been subject to conflicting information from even their own institutions about their rights to work in China.
“This is a new policy for 2022, so we do not know every detail yet”
International students have previously not been permitted to work while studying, although moonlighting in fields such as English teaching or hospitality has long been common.
However, this is something that the government has cracked down on in recent years, particularly in the English teaching sector, through measures such as limiting the visa categories able to open domestic bank accounts.
Some students have expressed fears that the convoluted nature of the requirements – specifically the need for approval from both the school and immigration authorities – will mean that employers will continue to prefer cash-in-hand employment.
Before the Covid pandemic, China was endeavouring to improve its international education offerings with the aim of attracting 500,000 international students annually by 2020. The last year for which data is publicly available, 2018, showed that 492,000 degree and non-degree seeking students had studied in the country that year.
The number had been steadily increasing over the last decade, suggesting the target would have been reached if not for the pandemic.
However, work rights and support for international students has continued to lag far behind other top destinations.
International graduates of Chinese universities have no post-graduation work rights, and bachelors graduates cannot legally work in China after graduating due to current work visa regulations mandating two years of post-graduate work experience outside of China as a minimum requirement in lieu of a masters degree of higher.
Some exceptions have been granted for students from top universities but this has not been extended nationally.
In 2016, a pilot project also allowed graduates in Shanghai to get a visa to undertake internships, invest in or start their own business in China for up to two years within the Shanghai Free Trade Zone or the Zhanjiang National Innovation Demonstration Zone.
International students recommended by their universities were also permitted to take part-time jobs in Zhongguancun Science Park in Beijing.
Pilot projects and small-scale rollouts can be an indication that there are plans in the works for greater adoption.
“They are positive signs that the Chinese government is considering opening up more broadly opportunities for international students to undertake part-time work or internships during their studies in China and to allow international students to work in China upon graduation,” said the Australian Embassy in Beijing at the time.
The updates will however mean little to the thousands of students who have been unable to return to China to continue their studies for almost two years since the outbreak of Covid. Despite promises from officials and diplomats, the borders remain closed.