No matter if you’re returning home after your contract or merely switching jobs, having a release letter from your previous employer is invaluable. It’s best to think of this little piece of paper as one of the i’s you need to dot in order to move on, whether that’s getting a new job or transferring your visa.
Usually, release letters in China are given without issue, but if you’re breaking your contract early or have rubbed your school the wrong way, it might prove more difficult than you anticipated.
What is a release letter?
A letter of release is a document written and issued by the school for which you’ve been working. The contents of the letter should state that you have been legally working in China and are still on good terms with the school. In addition, the letter should also mention that you’re in good standing with the law and are eligible to continue working and living in China.
Per Chinese law, schools are required to give you a release letter upon exiting. However, as we mentioned earlier, some employers may withhold the letter and make the transition a bit more difficult.
When do I need a release letter?
There really is no wrong time to get a release letter as it’s necessary when changing jobs and has proven helpful if you are thinking about returning in the future. The information it provides can help you in the following situations:
- If you’re switching jobs mid-contract
- If you’re changing jobs after completing a contract
- If you’re looking to change your visa from one type to another (for example, if you want to get a tourist visa after your contract so you travel a bit)
- If you’re leaving the country completely
Again, schools are legally required to give you the release letter. If you’re leaving the school to teach or work elsewhere, the letter will allow your next employer to renew your work and residency permits.
China’s laws are very strict, and ensuring you stay within the laws and abide by all work and residency permit policies will ensure your safety and freedom to work and travel the country.
What if my employer won’t give me a release letter?
There are plenty of horror stories out there related to schools withholding release letters either out of spite or confusion. While it’s easy to understand why a school would be mad about you breaking a contract or wanting to work elsewhere, they really have no excuse if you abide by your contract when it comes to parting ways.
However, if they still refuse to play ball, there are a few things you can do to let them know they are in the wrong:
- Schedule a meeting with school administrators and come prepared. This means printing out the applicable parts of the law and your contract to let them know they are obligated to provide the letter.
- Contact State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) and file a complaint. SAFEA has offices in various cities spread throughout the country and most of the time even the threat of getting them involved is enough to get the process started.
- Ask your new job to get involved. If you’re moving jobs then it’s in your new employer’s best interest to help you out, simply explain the situation and see what they can do.
When in Doubt, Know the Law
Familiarize yourself with policies regarding work and residency permits at the China Embassy website. This guide is a comprehensive list of requirements and procedures regarding foreign work permits in China.
Though the task may seem daunting, knowing when you’re in the right will help you avoid any conflicts and headache in the leaving process.