Mon, Feb 27, 2017 - Page 7 News List

China wants to attract certain kinds of foreigners, but not others

‘Encouraging the top, controlling the middle and limiting the bottom’: Some foreigners in China are more easily obtaining legal status while others face difficulties

By Mike Ives  /  NY Times News Service, HONG KONG

Stephon Marbury, a former NBA point guard who has forged a second career in the Chinese Basketball Association, says he enjoys being a celebrity expatriate in Beijing.

“This is home away from home and I’m loving it,” he wrote in a recent Twitter message that accompanied a video of him eating at a Chinese hot pot restaurant.

Marbury, 40, is one of 1,576 foreigners granted permanent residency in China last year. That figure represents a 163 percent year-on-year increase in a residency program that began in 2004, according to reports in the Chinese state news media.

China has generally issued a few hundred permanent residency cards per year, and the recent uptick illustrates how authorities are seeking to attract more foreign investors and celebrities, even though most recipients are still ethnically Chinese, analysts said.

For many other foreigners in China, they said, residency restrictions have increased since 2013, when a landmark immigration law took effect, and the residency program remains exceedingly small for a country of 1.3 billion people with about 600,000 foreign residents.

By contrast, the US with its population of about 324 million granted more than 1 million green cards in 2015, according to government data.

China’s immigration policies are contradictory in that they prioritize attracting foreign talent to increase economic modernization while reflecting a deep-rooted instinct to keep foreigners at arm’s length, said Frank Pieke, a professor of modern China studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

The policies, much like those of Japan and South Korea, were “predicated on a very strong nation-state that defines itself as the home of a particular ethnic and cultural group that wants to maintain its purity and wants to let in only what it really, really desperately needs,” he said.

China’s 2013 law was the first major overhaul of its national immigration policy since 1985 and helped to lay the foundation for a raft of new residency rules in the nation’s major cities.

In Shanghai, a 2015 rule relaxed the criteria for residency eligibility for local foreign residents, said Becky Xia, a Shanghai-based partner at Fragomen, an international immigration law firm.

Although applicants must still show four years of residency and a yearly salary of at least 600,000 yuan (US$87,307), she said, the new rule no longer requires them to be top executives.

Xia said that Fragomen had seen a 50 percent increase over the last year in clients seeking help with residency applications and most were Europeans in the information technology sector who oversee manufacturing in China.

She expects the number of residency cards issued in China to rise, partly because foreigners in business who have passed China’s retirement age — 60 for men and 55 for white-collar women — are not eligible for work visas and could apply for residency instead.

From an employer’s perspective: “I would think there are more options for getting the talent you want,” she said of Shanghai’s new rules.

She added that residency cards, unlike work permits, were not tied to employment contracts and were valid for renewable 10-year terms.

However, Chinese immigration and residency policies that have been in effect since 2013 have also become more restrictive toward less-valued workers, especially the African traders and entrepreneurs who have settled in Guangzhou since the early 2000s, often by overstaying their visas, experts said.

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