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China to Relax Restrictions on Chinese “Green Card” for Foreigners?

Editor’s note: The following was translated and edited from a report that appeared on the China News Service website, supplemented with material from China Daily and The Telegraph. It concerns a projected change to entry and exit laws that may possibly give more foreigners a chance to claim legal permanent residency in China, currently an extremely exclusive privilege that even those who meet the criteria often wait decades to obtain.  

China to Relax Restrictions on Chinese “Green Card” for Foreigners?
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According to information released on November 14 by China’s Ministry of Public Security’s Exit and Entry Administration deputy director Qu Yunhai, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are currently in talks to consider relaxing restrictions on applications for the Chinese “green card” for foreigners.

According to Qu’s statement made in Washington D.C., many foreigners, including those of Chinese ethnicity, have commented on the restrictions surrounding China’s “green card” system, generally expressing hope that such restrictions could be relaxed.

Qu revealed that the two Ministries are currently “considering expanding the limits of the green card [to include more applicants], which is expected to be released soon and will cause a noticeable impact.”

A boost for China’s technology sector

When the “green card” was first introduced in August of 2004, it was intended to encourage high-level foreigners to invest in business and promote technology and cultural sectors, at the same time satisfying many foreigners’ desire to reside permanently in China.

As of the end of 2011, more than 4,700 foreigners currently hold a Chinese “green card”, according to official statistics. After earning a “green card”, foreigners may reside in China indefinitely, entering and exiting with just a passport and the green card itself, without the need to apply for visas.

Liu Guofu, an expert in immigration law from the Beijing Institute of Technology, told reporters that the change mostly targets foreign workers in the technology sector. Previously, foreigners were required to hold a position of deputy general manager or associate professor or higher for at least four years to be eligible for permanent residency. According to Liu, the proposed change will remove the level of the position held from the list of green card criteria, although it will require 10 years of residency (including at least nine months out of each year) in China before candidates can become eligible.

According to Qu’s statement, the new entry-exit laws will be put into effect on July 1 of next year.

Realistic expectations

Despite the promise of change, many foreigners are hesitant to show optimism. Gilbert van Kerckhove, a Belgian expat interviewed by the British news service The Telegraph, says he’s been living in China for 30 years. Despite having held a high-level advisory position, winning awards for contributions to China, and being married to a Chinese woman, his permanent residency wasn’t granted until 2008.

Van Kerckhove seems to believe that just because you meet the stringent requirements for permanent residency—which include having a high-level job, making investment, and having made a “great” contribution to China—doesn’t mean you’re going to get it anytime soon. Van Kerckhove says the majority of “green cards” awarded are to returning overseas Chinese, or given as “prestige” gifts to important personages who never actually reside in China. “People like me,” he says, referring to green card holders who are both nationally and ethnically foreign, “are a minority.”

For those lucky enough to hold the “green card”, however, new changes may be something to look forward to. Wang Huiyao, deputy director of China Talent Research, a government-affiliated human resources institution, told China Daily that a new document, to be released as early as December, will grant green card holders the same rights as Chinese citizens, except the right to elect officials or to be elected as an official.

Wang says the document will also allow holders to use their green card as a sort of “travel certificate”, which may be used to check into hotels.

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