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Temporary Activity FAQs: Filing and Beyond

This series of FAQs addresses the steps necessary for a foreign NGO to file a temporary activity in mainland China. Under the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Administration of Activities of Overseas Nongovernmental Organizations in the Mainland of China (the Foreign NGO Law), there are two ways a foreign NGO is permitted to operate in mainland China: by establishing a representative office, or by filing a temporary activity. (For the steps needed to register a representative office, please see details in “Representative Office FAQs: Registering and Beyond.”)


Before Filing: What Groups Are Eligible to File for a Temporary Activity?

Article 2 of the Foreign NGO Law, as translated by China Law Translate, defines Foreign NGOs as any “not-for-profit, non-governmental social organizations lawfully established outside mainland China, such as foundations, social groups, and think tank institutions.”

The law provides little clarity on the types of nonprofit, non-governmental organizations or activities that would be considered “foreign NGOs” in the Chinese context. For example, is a social enterprise considered a foreign NGO? What about a U.N.-affiliated agency?

Several types of foreign NGOs are not subject to the Foreign NGO Law. Per Article 53 of the law, these certain types of organizations may carry out exchanges or cooperation in China with Chinese organizations of the same type without filing a temporary activity (or registering a representative office):

  • Foreign schools
  • Foreign hospitals
  • Foreign Natural science and engineering technology research institutions
  • Foreign Academic organizations

Thus, for example, the law suggests that a foreign school establishing an exchange with a school in China would not be subject to the Foreign NGO law. However, a foreign school cooperating with another type of entity in China, such as a Chinese NGO or a Chinese cultural institution, would be subject to the Foreign NGO law.


Before Filing: What Is the Scope of Work Permitted under the Foreign NGO Law?

Articles 3 and 5 of the Foreign NGO Law outline the scope of permitted foreign NGO engagement in China (translations by China Law Translate):

  • Foreign NGOs may conduct work in “fields such as economics, education, science, culture, health, sports, and environmental protection, and for areas such as poverty relief and disaster relief.”
  • Foreign NGOs’ work “must not endanger China’s national unity, security, or ethnic unity; and must not harm China’s national interests, societal public interest and the lawful rights and interests of citizens, legal persons and other organizations.” (A legal person generally refers to a “non-human entity that is treated as a person for limited legal purposes,” such as corporations.)
  • Foreign NGOs must not engage in or fund for-profit activities, political activities, or religious activities.

The China NGO Project has identified temporary activities or representative offices working in the following fields, categorizing them based on the “scope of work” or activity name as provided on the Ministry of Public Security website:

  • Aging
  • Agriculture
  • Animal Protection
  • Arts and Culture
  • Civil Society Capacity-Building
  • Disabilities
  • Disaster Relief
  • Economic Development
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Environment
  • Ethnic Affairs
  • Gender Issues
  • Health
  • Human Rights
  • Infrastructure
  • International Relations/Exchange
  • Labor
  • Law and Governance
  • LGBTQ Issues
  • Media
  • Migrants
  • Poverty Alleviation
  • Religion
  • Rural Issues/Development
  • Sport
  • Technology
  • Tourism
  • Trade
  • Urban Issues/Development
  • Youth

A full list of temporary activities, including the fields in which they work, can be found here. (A list of representative offices can be found here.)


Before Filing: What Is Considered a “Temporary” Activity?

Activities must not engage in or fund for-profit activities, political activities, or religious activities.

In addition to the requirements listed above, officials with specific knowledge of the law’s implementation have also said that three factors may determine whether or not a given activity counts as a “temporary activity”:

  1. Is the foreign NGO providing funding for the activity?
  2. Will the foreign NGO publicize the event and/or outcomes afterwards?
  3. Are any foreign participants acting in the name of a foreign NGO (instead of acting on their own personal behalf)?

It is worth noting that even if a foreign NGO does not provide activity funding, the activity might still be considered a “temporary activity” if the other conditions are met.

Per the Foreign NGO Law, temporary activities have a maximum time limit of one year, though Article 17 of the law states that groups may file again to extend the time period of the activity if there is a need do so. As explained by a Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) Foreign NGO Management Office official at a talk for foreign NGOs in Beijing in November 2018, “[t]he cooperation agreement signed by Chinese [Partner Units] and overseas NGOs may be three to five years. If in the first year the filing was carried out according to the law, then is the agreement still valid in the following year? Is it necessary to go back to the overseas NGO management office and file again? This is needed, because filings for temporary activities are valid at most for one year.”

Indeed, based on information available as of January 2019, it appears that a fair number of foreign NGOs have been able to use the temporary activity filing mechanism to carry out programs for more than one year by re-filing for the same activity after the initial one-year period is up. An up-to-date filterable table listing temporary activities filed by foreign NGOs since January 2017 can be found here.


Before Filing: What Is a Chinese Partner Unit (CPU)?

Chinese Partner Units (CPUs) are organizations that work with foreign NGOs to carry out temporary activities. A foreign NGO cannot carry out a temporary activity in mainland China without a CPU. Article 16 of the Foreign NGO law, as translated by China Law Translate, describes CPUs as “state organs, mass organizations, public institutions, or social organizations.” As explained by a Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) Foreign NGO Management Office official at a talk for foreign NGOs in Beijing in November 2018, this means that neither an individual nor a business can act as a CPU:

[W]hen setting up temporary activities in China, NGOs need to cooperate with the four above mentioned groups of organs and organizations. The cooperation partners can’t be individuals or enterprises, they can only be the four types mentioned in the article.

I will explain the four organs and organizations clearly to you. “State organs” are bureaus (委办局) under the government. “People’s organizations” are social organizations which don’t need to register with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. For example, large-scale and national organizations, such as the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, the All-China Women’s Federation, the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, the China Writers Association, and the Associations for Science and Technology at the municipal level. “Public institutions” refer to public institutions with a registered certification, for instance centers and schools under ministries and commissions. “Social organizations” are domestic social organizations which are registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

There is no official list of pre-approved CPUs. Based on information available as of June 2018, the NGO project has published an analysis of CPUs, discussing which organizations have already served as CPUs and which types of organizations are most likely to do so. An up-to-date filterable table listing all organizations that have served as CPUs since January 2017 can be found here.

It is important to note that the CPU is also the entity that formally files the required temporary activity paperwork with the PSB; the foreign NGO does not submit anything to the PSB directly. As explained by the same PSB official at the November 2018 event: “The Chinese [Partner Units] need to go through examination and approval procedures according to the law, which means that all the process of filling is undertaken by the Chinese [Partner Unit]. Overseas NGOs only need to provide the related materials which are required by the Chinese [Partner Unit].”

Note that a CPU is different from a Professional Supervisory Unit (PSU). PSUs are organizations that supervise a foreign NGO’s in-country representative office. In a broad sense, PSUs perform the same oversight function for a representative office’s work that CPUs do for temporary activities, but there are additional restrictions on which organizations can serve as PSUs. More information about PSUs is available here.


During Filing: What Documents Do We Need to Give Our Chinese Partner Unit to File for a Temporary Activity?

As enumerated in Article 17 of the Foreign NGO Law, a foreign NGO must supply its Chinese Partner Unit (CPU) with the following documentation to file with the relevant Public Security office at least 15 days before a temporary activity begins (note: this time restriction is waived in cases of emergency relief services):

  1. Documents and materials showing the foreign NGO’s legal establishment. Different provinces may have different requirements as to whether these documents must be submitted for every temporary activity. As explained by a Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) Foreign NGO Management Office official at a talk for foreign NGOs in Beijing in November 2018,

    As the municipality with the largest amount of registered overseas NGOs, Beijing provides lots of convenience to overseas NGOs and Chinese cooperation partners. This can be seen from the requirements for certificates and materials to prove the overseas NGO is legally established, which we only ask for once a year.

    For example, Germany’s Brot fur die Welt cooperates with Chinese social organizations, and they only need to submit their proof or registration material once. If other social organizations cooperate with Brot fur die Welt in the same year, they don’t need to provide the original script of their registration certificates, and only need to provide a photocopy. However, the period of validity is only one year. The documents need to be re-submitted next year, because it is necessary to make sure that certain organizations continue to exist.

  2. A written agreement between the Foreign NGO and a CPU. As explained by the same PSB official:

    Lots of Chinese cooperation partners have asked the question: “Are there specific requirements for the written agreement? Is it possible to send us a template.” This agreement is a civil agreement, as long as the agreement contains the time, content and funds of the program, and it doesn’t violate the law there is no problem. When you submit the materials, the original script and photocopy are both required, but we will only keep the photocopy.

    One NGO provided The China NGO Project with their template, which is available here.

  3. Information about the temporary activity, including the activity’s name, objectives, region, and proposed timing and duration (the “Form for Filing of a Foreign NGO Temporary Activity,” Form 11). As explained by the same PSB official at the November event, CPUs will put this information into an online form, after which “it will automatically move to the [CPU’s own supervisory authority] to receive its seal. Writing by hand or printing out the blank form and filling it yourself do not conform to the standard.”

  4. Materials showing the project budget, funding sources, and the bank account information of the Chinese Partner Unit. As explained by the same PSB official at the November event:

    If the overseas NGO contributes one million for the temporary activity, they need this document to prove their program and funding situation. In this document, they need to write down the [CPU] and the location of the activities clearly. Whether the full sum is in dollars or RMB, both the representative office and the headquarters need to seal and sign.

    If the [CPU] also provided funds, they also need a document. Moreover, the [CPU] also need[s] to add their bank account in the document. In fact, two documents are needed, which are the overseas NGOs’ proof of funding and the [CPU]’s proof of funding. Even if the [CPU] does not provide funding, they still need to provide a document stating the activity’s funding amount and their bank account.

    What two NGOs provided as “proof of funding” is further detailed here.

  5. Approval documents obtained by the CPU. This refers to approval documentation from the CPU’s own supervisory authority, or Professional Supervisory Unit. The same PSB official noted at the November event that “[i]t is important to communicate with the department supervising the [CPU], and report to them in advance.”

  6. Other documents and materials as required by law or administrative regulations.

Links to official forms required by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) can be found here.

One foreign NGO told The China NGO Project that the process of compiling these documents, including translations, took several weeks and cost the equivalent of over U.S.$1,000 in fees.

Note that the CPU, not the foreign NGO itself, is responsible for filing this paperwork with the PSB. The MPS has created a guide for the submission of the proper documentation.

You can read more about one organization’s process of document preparation here.


During Filing: What Does a “Written Agreement” with a Chinese Partner Unit Consist of?

The Environmental Law Institute has shared a version of the document it created to formalize a temporary activity agreement with its Chinese Partner Unit (CPU). The text of this template is available here. A Word document of it is also available here, which foreign NGOs can download and use to create their own agreements. These “written agreements” are also often referred to as Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs).


During Filing: How Do We Apply for Visas?

In August 2017, the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security jointly issued the “Notice on Handling Work Permits for Foreign Employees of Foreign NGOs and Related Issues.” As translated by China Development Brief, the Notice describes how foreign NGO employees traveling to China to conduct a temporary activity can apply for a visa:

  1. Those in charge of temporary activities and other important members of staff can apply for work permits by providing the receipt form for the temporary activity. The approval period shall be no longer than the period of the temporary activity.
  2. Foreigners who apply for a work permit for no more than 90 days (including 90 days) shall apply online by providing the receipt form for the temporary activity. Those that meet “foreign top talent” standards can apply for a foreign talent invitation letter online by providing the receipt form for the temporary activity and other supporting material, and the accompanying staff can fill out application forms.
  3. Foreigners who apply for a work permit for more than 90 days, but no more than 1 year (including 1 year), shall apply online by providing the receipt form for the temporary activity, an employment contract or certificate of employment, and a physical examination certificate. For the work qualification certificate, letter of good conduct and the certificate of the highest degree achieved, the commitment system is used.


During Filing: How Do We Contact the Public Security Bureau?

Foreign NGO registration occurs at the level of the province, which includes five autonomous regions (Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Tibet, Ningxia, and Xinjiang) and four municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing). Each province has established a location where foreign NGOs should submit paperwork related to setting up a representative office or carrying out a temporary activity. In most if not all cases, this is co-located with the province’s Public Security Bureau (PSB) Entry and Exit Administration. Contact information for these offices, including address, phone numbers, fax, and email (where available), is listed here.

Please note that it is the Chinese Partner Unit’s (CPU’s) responsibility to provide temporary activity documentation to the PSB; in some cases, foreign NGOs have reported that a particular PSB only wanted to interact with the CPU and not with the foreign NGO itself.


During Registration: What if We Don’t Seem to Be Making Progress in Submitting Our Filing?

The China NGO Project is unaware of any temporary activity filings being publicly and officially rejected due to content concerns. Instead, filings are more likely to be hung up in the process of finding a willing and able Chinese Partner Unit (CPU). For example, if an NGO is unable to find a CPU (or the CPU’s government supervisory unit will not sign off on the activity), its temporary activity filings may stall out before they ever reach the Ministry of Public Security (MPS).

According to one source, the MPS has stated on multiple occasions that foreign NGOs have the right to appeal MPS regulatory decisions rejecting NGOs’ requests to establish a representative office or carry out a temporary activity. Appeals should be made according to domestic legal processes to challenge administrative decisions by regulators, as described in the Administrative Reconsideration Law and the Administrative Litigation Law. However, as there have been no explicit application rejections on substantive grounds, The China NGO Project is unaware of any groups that have attempted such an appeal.

According to remarks from a Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) Foreign NGO Management Office official at a talk for foreign NGOs in Beijing in November 2018, foreign NGOs have been refused temporary activities if they had not filed at least 15 days in advance of the activity in question:

Chinese [Partner Units] must pay attention that the 15 days are prescribed by law, so we don’t have the authority to modify it. Thus it is important to avoid mistakes over this inflexible rule, because a lot of refusals have happened as a result . . .

When sudden-onset disasters happen, the Chinese cooperation partner will not be limited by the 15-day regulation.

However, if the situation is not urgent, it is not permitted to submit the documents only three to five days in advance. This condition only takes action under special situations like disaster relief and rescue.


During Filing: What Have Other Groups’ Filing Processes Been Like?

Case studies for filing for temporary activities:


During Filing: Other Filing-Related FAQs


After Filing: What Follow-up Reporting Is Required?

Within 30 days of the conclusion of a temporary activity, the foreign NGO and Chinese Partner Unit (CPU) must send a written report to the public security office at which they filed for their temporary activity (it is the CPU that formally submits this report). This report should include information about how the activity went and the use of funds for the activity. The CPU should use the “Foreign NGO Temporary Activity Report” form (Form 12). This form asks for much of the same information as the form used to initially file for the temporary activity, but adds a field for describing how the foreign NGO actually implemented the temporary activity, including a description of the use of funds. The official Chinese form can be found here. An unofficial English translation can be found here.

At a talk for foreign NGOs in Beijing in November 2018, a Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) Foreign NGO Management Office official urged attendees to be mindful of the 30-day deadline: “This is also part of the law, and must not be forgotten.”

Last Updated: June 17, 2019