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Ongoing Confusion over Foreigners' Inclusion in China's Social Security System

Posted on Jan 09, 2012 by Sergio Ulloa ()  | Tags: China Expatriate Tax, China Healthcaer Reforms, China Social Security

There continues to be continued uncertainty over whether, as well as how, China is going to include foreign workers in the nation's social security scheme, with only 3 cities so far, including the nation's capital, having committed themselves to registering and taxing foreign employees. The inclusion of foreigners in China's social security taxation structure is part of China's health care reforms and the modernization of the country's social welfare structure to accommodate such reforms. Through taxing expatriates, China offers them access to a number of things through the social security system such as unemployment insurance, pensions and basic medical cover. The scheme requires that the employer pays a tax of 37 percent of the employees' salary to the state, while the employee contributes a further 11 percent, although contributions are supposed to be capped at three times the average salary in any city. The plan to include foreign expatriates in China in the social security taxation scheme was initially announced by the central government in July of 2011, and foreigners were supposed to have commenced paying into the social security scheme in October. However, while the Chinese central government announced the new taxation on expatriates, it is the local authorities who are supposed to be implementing it through the registration of foreigners and a mechanism for how to actually pay into the social security system. The lack of clarity over how the process should work, as well as the relatively short timeline to put necessary frameworks in place in many localities, has resulted in much confusion all around. Beijing was the only city ready to begin registering foreign workers, and even that has been rumored to be fairly unorganized. However, two new cities have begun registering foreigners to comply with the new tax law, namely Tianjin and Suzhou. Other large centers of commerce in China, such as Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen have so far not begun to implement the new taxes for the social security scheme. On top of the general bureaucratic chaos, both companies and their foreign employees have great concerns over the new tax and its implications. Many companies are concerned that in a business climate where it is increasingly more expensive to do business in China, the tax on expatriates' salaries would become a drain on both business growth and foreign investment. Foreign employees on the other hand are concerned that since much of their rights as workers are linked to their work visas, they will most likely never see the benefits they have been paying for. When expatriates lose or finish their employment in China, they must leave the country, largely rendering the benefits of the social security scheme moot. Only in December did state media outlet Xinhua cite an unnamed social security official in Beijing as saying that foreigners who leave China will have their pension accounts kept, until they return to the country, retire, or submit a written application to drop the scheme. Although given the fact that this came out three months after people were supposed to have started paying into a scheme which they may or may not see the benefits from, it may only serve to further the sense of confusion surrounding the new taxes. While the social security scheme is similar to many other countries which include both citizens and foreigners, much needs to be done in order to clarify the scheme in order to make it reasonable.
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