The Z Visa is issued to those who intend to work in China.
Getting a Z Visa in China is particularly tricky, for several reasons. For a start, many companies are not authorized to hire foreigners. This is why, for example, many language schools hire foreign English teachers without providing them with a work visa; lacking the necessary credentials to hire foreign staff, they are unable to get their hands on a Z Visa for said staff without paying a premium (which, of course, they choose not to do, electing instead to illegally supply the teachers with business visas).
Even for companies who can hire foreign staff, the process involves several steps and multiple branches of government bureaucracy. The applicant (or more likely, the applicant's employer) must apply for a work permit ("Alien Employment License") or Foreign Expert's Certificate before the actual visa application can be submitted. This stage of the process involves the employer persuading the relevant authority that the applicant in question has the skills and experience needed to do a job which could not be done equally well by a Chinese person.
Usually, applicants must be at least 25 years old, with relevant educational background – some businesses may demand a bachelor's degree, but this is not demanded by law – and a minimum of two years' work experience in the relevant field, or five if you're teaching something other than languages. Many applications hit a brick wall at this stage.
Applicants must also undergo a medical examination. The official line is that this is to verify that the applicant is not carrying contagious viruses or diseases. However, many suspect that the examination is mainly to test for cases of HIV/AIDS, which is still something of a taboo in China. However, being HIV positive does not necessarily mean that you will be refused a work visa, although it will probably lower your chances considerably.
Applicants may be required to pass a health examination in their own country before a Z Visa is issued. However, many have then found themselves having to undergo another examination upon arrival in China (most cities have a single hospital designated for overseeing examinations of foreigners and issuing the relevant certificates).
When your Physical Examination Record and work permit or Foreign Expert's Certificate have been issued, you (or your prospective employer) can apply for a visa notification letter to be issued. With this taken care of, it's a matter of gathering all these documents, along with those that you are required to provide yourself, and submitting your application to the relevant visa office.
After a Z Visa has been issued, you may now travel to China safe in the knowledge that you will be allowed to enter the country. Upon your arrival in China, the final step in the process for your employer is to take your passport to the local Public Security Bureau (PSB) to apply for your visa to be converted into a Residence Permit (a separate document which will be pasted into your passport).
Up to 90 days for single entry (your Z Visa must be converted into a Residence Permit within this 90-day period). Remember that 'validity' just means how long you have to attempt to enter China on that visa from the day it is supplied, not how long you can actually spend in the country. Your maximum stay per entry is 365 days, and if necessary, you can extend your stay.
Steps to apply for Z Visa
Original signed passport with at least six months of remaining validity and blank visa pages, and a copy of the passport's data page and the photo page if it is separate.
2. Visa Application Form (Form V.2013) and Photo
One completed Visa Application Form with a recently-taken color passport photo (bare-head, full face) against a light background attached
3. Proof of legal stay or residence status (applicable to non-U.S. citizens)
You must provide the original and photocopy of your valid certificates or visa of stay, residence, employment or student status, or other valid certificates of legal staying provided by the relevant authorities of the country where you are currently staying.
4. Photocopy of previous Chinese passports or previous Chinese visas (applicable to foreign citizens who were Chinese citizens and have obtained foreign citizenship)
If you are applying for a Chinese visa for the first time, you should provide your previous Chinese passport held and a photocopy of its data page.
If you have obtained Chinese visas before and want to apply for a Chinese visa with a renewed foreign passport that does not contain any Chinese visa, you should present the photocopy of the previous passport's data page and the photo page if it is separate, as well as the previous Chinese visa page. (If your name on the current passport differs from that on the previous one, you must provide an official document of name change.)
5. One of the following documents:
A. Foreigners Employment Permit of the People's Republic of China issued by Chinese government authorities for Human Resources and Social Security, as well as Invitation Letter of Duly Authorized Entity or Confirmation Letter of Invitation issued by relevant Chinese entities; if your intended work period is 90 days or less, you need to provide an Approval of Short-Term Employment for Foreigners Working in P.R. China. You must apply for your visa before the commencing work date indicated on the Approval and you will be allowed to work only within the period of time indicated in the Approval.
B. Permit for Foreign Experts Working in China issued by the State Bureau of Foreign Experts as well as Invitation Letter of Duly Authorized Entity or Confirmation Letter of Invitation issued by relevant Chinese entities.
C. Registration Certificate of Resident Representative Offices of enterprises of foreign countries(regions) issued by Chinese authorities of industrial and commercial administration, as well as Invitation Letter of Duly Authorized Entity or Confirmation Letter of Invitation issued by relevant Chinese entities as well as Invitation Letter of Duly Authorized Entity or Confirmation Letter of Invitation issued by relevant Chinese entities.
D. An approval document for commercial performances issued by the Chinese government authorities for cultural affairs or Invitation Letter of Duly Authorized Entity or Confirmation Letter of Invitation issued by relevant Foreign Affairs Office of provincial governments of China; if your intended performance period is 90 days or less, you need to provide an Approval of Short-Term Employment for Foreigners Working in P.R. China. You must apply for your visa before the commencing performance date indicated on the Approval and you will be allowed to perform only within the period of time indicated in the Approval.
E. Letter of Invitation to Foreigners for Offshore Petroleum Operations in China issued by China National Offshore Oil Corporation.
1. The applicant should guarantee that all information provided in the application is true and correct. Any false, misleading or incomplete information may result in denial of the visa or refusal of entry into China.
2. The invitation letter may be in the form of fax, photocopy or computer printout. An applicant may be required to submit an original invitation, provide other supporting documents, or schedule an interview with the consular officer.
3. The consular officer will make decisions on whether or not to grant a visa and allowed validity, duration of stay and number of entries based on individual application.
4. A holder of category Z Visa must apply for a residence permit at the local public security authorities within 30 days of entry into China unless the Duration of Each Stay on the visa is marked as 30 days.