"The unification eliminates the replicated application hurdle and improves communication, aiming to better serve overseas talent coming to work in China," Zhang Jianguo, head of State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, said.
A trial will get underway in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin municipalities as well as in Hebei, Anhui, Shandong, Guangdong and Sichuan provinces and the Ningxia Hui autonomous region beginning in October, state-run China Daily reported.
Under the current system, foreigners can apply for either of two types of work permit -an employment license for foreigners issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, or a foreign expert work permit provided by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs.
"Legally, it is pretty hard to tell which category an applicant belongs to," said Liu Guofu, a professor of immigration law at the Beijing Institute of Technology. Liu said a single work permit is commonly used in most developed countries for global talent recruitment.
"The old rule is more likely a product of a planned economy, and the new one is market-driven," he said. Zhang said the reform also aims to attract more highly skilled foreigners and those in demand to help with China's development. The areas selected for the trial will begin preparations in October, including staff training and promotion, and the new permit will be issued in these regions beginning on November 1.
According to the administration, a manual will be issued to guide foreigners in obtaining the permit. The manual will explain such things as applicant requirements, basic procedures and the review time.
"The new work permit card will be the legal credential for foreigners to work in China," Gao Xiang, director of the administration's department of policies and regulations said. He said the number on the permit will be used to "record, manage and serve each foreigner who works in China".
The card will be issued beginning in April, after the trial is over. During the trial period, foreigners will be issued a temporary paper card, the administration said.