China should set up immigration bureau to attract more talents - think tank

Foreigner was given a Chinese green card. Photo: Handout

A think tank recently called for the Chinese government to set up an independent immigration bureau to attract more global talents, amid rumors that the country is planning to open its first immigration office.

"With an increasing inflow of international immigrants, China has put the establishment of an immigration bureau on the agenda, with a mission to provide immigrants with special management and services. However, the efforts cannot meet the growing demand, because the processing of foreigners' applications for visa, residency status and immigration cannot be done in a centralized way," the Beijing-headquartered Center for China and Globalization (CCG) said in a research report published on February 22.

Amid concerns that China's complicated immigration policy and tedious regulatory approval process may discourage many international talents to settle in the country, the think tank said that an immigration bureau can put the disposal of all the visa and immigration-related affairs under unified management.

Currently, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) is largely responsible for tackling the immigration affairs, with several other government agencies taking part in the management.

"It is inappropriate to let the Ministry of Public Security manage the immigration affairs, as the ministry should concentrate on domestic security," CCG President Wang Huiyao said. Wang's view was echoed by State Council advisor Chen Quansheng, who believed that the immigration bureau should be affiliated to the State Council rather than the MPS, which will help streamline the immigration application procedure.

The report further said that the immigration bureau can double as a platform for the immigrants by setting up a special division connecting them with the local cultural and business environment. The division can "play a role in language training, cultural fusion and vocational information release" which will "enable the immigrants to enter, stay and develop well" in the country.

As the country is transforming from an economy driven by exports and investment to one based on innovation, China needs more global talents than ever.

At the beginning of 2016, China issued a document to ease the permanent residency application requirements for the eligible foreigners, vowing to adopt a "flexible" and "pragmatic" approach to classify foreign applicants' qualifications based on salary, tax payment, business achievement, social reputation and so on.

In June last year, China officially joined the International Organization for Migration, in an apparent sign of China's open attitude toward the introduction of talented immigrants.

Gaining upper hand in talent competition

In 2016, the Chinese government issued 1,576 green cards to foreigners, representing an increase of 163 percent from a year earlier. However, the number is too tiny compared with the US where more than 1 million foreigners were granted American permanent residency status in 2015.

But the US' long-held advantage in recruiting global talents has come under strain under President Donald Trump, who is tightening restrictions on the inflow of immigrants and foreign workers. It could be a golden opportunity for China to gain an upper hand in the escalated international competition for talented professionals and technicians around the world.

"The tightening of the American immigration policy discourages international high-end talents, who can be used by China to deal with the aging population problem, power the innovation-driven development and support the One Belt One Road initiative ... China should grasp the opportunity to roll out more open, friendly policies to recruit the world's talents," the report said.

China should improve the domestic environment for foreign talents by setting up the immigration bureau and rolling out more supporting policies for the head-hunting companies at a time when the Trump government is unfriendly to immigrants, said Chen, who is also a senior researcher at the CCG.

In February, leaders from China's central leading group for comprehensively deepening reforms reaffirmed at a meeting the commitment to further carrying out the reforms to facilitate the permanent residency application for foreigners and to allow foreigners with Chinese green card to enjoy equal treatment with Chinese citizens.

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