China to lower threshold for green card to attract global talents

An American applies for permanent residence status in China at the Chongqing Public Security Bureau. Photo: Xinhua

The general offices of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the State Council, China's cabinet, have jointly issued a document to ease the permanent residency application requirements for foreigners, amid effort to build an innovation-driven nation with more global talents.

China will adopt a "flexible" and "pragmatic" approach to classify foreign applicants' qualifications based on salary, tax and social reputation, and allow more entities to employ eligible applicants, according to the document aimed at expanding the categories of foreigners in the country qualified to gain a Chinese green card.

The document, which only offered some guidelines that the government said will be used for detailed regulations in the near future, said that "proactive" investment-based immigration policies are needed to lure foreigners intending to invest in China.

The document made clear that foreigners with permanent residency will enjoy equal treatment with Chinese citizens in buying property, children's education, obtaining driver's license, handling financial business and other areas of life.

Talent introduction strategy

The document reiterated that the application procedure for foreigners who have made significant contributions to China should be simplified with their waiting time for approval being shortened.

Wang Huiyao, director of the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), an independent think tank based in Beijing, called the document a "radical change" in China's policy of attracting investor immigrants and outstanding international professionals, comparing it to the country's first law enacted in 1979 to allow the establishment of joint-venture enterprises.

"At the early phase of the reform and opening up, with the help of the 1979 law, China saw an explosive growth of foreign capital introduction. At present, being the world's second-largest economy, China is increasingly changing its development strategy by lowering threshold for foreign talents (who want to apply for Chinese green cards)," said Wang.

After reviewing an article of the document which encourages investor immigration policy to be proactively implemented in order to attract more foreigners to invest in China, Wang predicted that China is likely to set up an immigration bureau similar to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, saying that the policy change will meet China's demand for foreign talents and investment.

Wang added that the document will make it easier for the enterprises operating in China to apply for long-term visas or Chinese green cards for their foreign employees.

In 2008, China launched the "Thousand Talents" recruitment program to attract high-level professionals from around the world. But an official from China's Ministry of Public Security who refused to be named revealed that China's current scale of green card issuance cannot meet the country's demand for overseas talents.

A survey conducted by the CCG showed that foreign experts working in China only accounted for 0.06 percent of the country's total experts, while the average figure in the developed countries is 3 percent or above.

An empty promise?

However, some foreigners living and working in China are not excited about the document.

"The Chinese government has already talked about making it easier for foreigners to have Chinese green cards, but it is still the most difficult thing to obtain. It always promised and never really improved anything. All empty talk. I would say seeing is believing," said Gilbert van Kerckhove, a Belgian who has worked in China for decades and served as a government advisor during Beijing's preparations for the Summer Olympic Games in 2008.

China is one of the major countries in the world with the smallest number of foreigners, said the Belgian. He revealed that he got his green card twice but others who on paper fulfilled the requirements never got it, attributing it to his decent background and great contributions to the Chinese government.

When asked why the Chinese government set high threshold for foreigners to gain Chinese green cards, he said, "We foreigners are less welcome than before."

According to a survey recently conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in China, more than 70 percent of foreign companies surveyed said that they felt less welcome in the past year, with a quarter having plans to relocate some of their operations out of the country.

Among the roughly 600,000 foreigners living and working in China, only about 7,000 have been granted permanent residency by the Chinese authorities since 2004 when China adopted its first policy on green card.

Colin, who is from the UK and has lived and worked in China since 1998, suggested that China should learn from many other countries where the only requirements that foreigners have to meet to obtain green cards are to have lived legally in the host countries for a certain period and to have not been convicted for any criminal offence.

"I do not have a Chinese green card now, but I would be happy to have one," said Colin.

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