Looser regulations for permanent residence in China? Chinese aren't convinced

With proposed loosening of regulations on permanent residence for foreigners in China, netizens are worried that it might be easier for illegal immigrants to become legal immigrants, or for low-calibre foreigners to stay put. Zaobao correspondent Yu Zeyuan presents the arguments.
A girl (C) greets a foreigner living in Beijing at Jingshan Park. The Chinese government published draft regulations on permanent residence for foreigners in China, to seek public views. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)
A girl (C) greets a foreigner living in Beijing at Jingshan Park. The Chinese government published draft regulations on permanent residence for foreigners in China, to seek public views. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)

On 27 February, China’s Ministry of Justice (MOJ) solicited public opinions on draft rules on foreigners' permanent residence, sparking intense debate among the internet community and prompting the MOJ to temporarily close discussions on the topic.

Many netizens oppose loosening regulations on residency rights for foreigners in China. They feel that the regulations are too relaxed and do not attract high-calibre talents but may instead allow some illegal immigrants to become legal residents in China. Also, relaxing the regulations is equivalent to allowing dual citizenship, which would encourage some Chinese to emigrate overseas and then return to live in China as a foreigner, adding to the loss of talent and capital.

But there are many netizens who also support loosening the regulations. On 1 March, WeChat user @maogeshijue (猫哥的世界) wrote an essay saying that relaxing the regulations would attract talents and ease the pressure of 30 million men in China’s farming villages not being able to find spouses, since today’s Chinese women are unwilling to live in farming villages, but many women from farming villages in third world countries are willing to do so.

philippe klein
Philippe Klein, a French doctor currently working in Wuhan. The draft regulations include criteria on income and qualifications of foreigners in China. (CNS)

The draft regulations state that foreigners eligible to apply for permanent residence in China include those who have worked in China for three years and have either a doctoral degree or a degree from a well-known international university, and lived in China for a total of at least one year during that period. It also includes those who have worked in China for three consecutive years in a key development industry and earn a salary at least four times the city average.

The rules also state that foreigners have family needs and can apply for permanent residence if their spouse is a Chinese citizen or foreigner with permanent residence living in China, and who has lived in China with their spouse for at least five years after marriage, spending at least nine months each year in China, with a stable lifestyle and abode. Children below 18 years of age have to live in China with their parents who are Chinese citizens or foreigners with permanent residence.

... opening up permanent residence now might resolve difficulties for some sectors in the short term, but will create problems in the long term.

WeChat user @chinasuperdad (超级学爸) wrote an essay on 3 March, saying that a doctorate is too easy a criterion because foreigners enjoy differential treatment pursuing a doctorate in China. For local Chinese students, their doctoral theses may not be enough to stand out from the competition; they may even need to "cultivate their relationship" with the spouses of their supervisors. But for foreign students, supervisors will do all they can to help them graduate on time in order to meet work targets. Besides, many overseas doctorates may not be of high quality.

The essay said opening up permanent residence now might resolve difficulties for some sectors in the short term, but will create problems in the long term. The parents, spouses, and children of foreigners with permanent residence will also be eligible to apply for permanent residence, regardless of whether they are high-calibre talents, and there is no mechanism to prevent this. If China's family planning policies do not apply to them, it would also create problems. Besides, differences in language and culture and religious beliefs would be potential issues in social governance.

The essay added that there has been major online backlash to the draft regulations, because people are afraid that they will end up being subordinate to Caucasians, given the general feeling that foreigners in China have special rights. Netizens who support the draft rules think the bar has been set quite high, and there will not be a problem with many low-calibre foreigners becoming legal permanent residents in China.

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Two foreign buyers at Yiwu International Trade City, sourcing for items to buy. There are concerns about illegal immigrants becoming legal residents in China. (CNS)

People unhappy with management of foreigners in China

On 1 March, WeChat user @dashuaibi_1024 (周老师的茶馆) published an essay that said the total number of people in China with at least a basic degree since 1978 makes up barely 4% of the population. So, anyone who gets a doctorate in China, no matter how unintelligent, would be among that 4%.

... an increasing number of illegal immigrants have turned up in Guangzhou and other places, and the authorities do not have many ways to deal with the problem...

Global Times editor Hu Xijin thinks people are sensitive about the topic because they are unhappy about how foreigners in China are managed. Recently, an increasing number of illegal immigrants have turned up in Guangzhou and other places, and the authorities do not have many ways to deal with the problem, so people are worried that the new regulations belie the intention of “taking in” illegal immigrants.

Hu said China has a large population and immigration is happening all over the world, and China’s resources are tight. Hence, China must make sure not to add to its population burden through a misstep in immigration policy, following its long-term policy of family planning.

Who is eligible to apply for permanent residence in China under the draft regulations?

Outstanding contributions or required talents

● Those recommended by the authorities who have made outstanding contributions to China’s economy and society

● Those with internationally recognised outstanding achievements in the fields of economy, science, and technology, education, culture, health, sports, etc.

● Foreign professionals or academic talents brought in and recommended by key industries, tertiary institutions, research institutes, and new technology companies

Highly qualified talents

● Those with a doctoral degree or a degree from a well-known international university, and have lived in China for a total of at least one year during that period, with a good tax and credit record

High-income talents

● Those who have worked in China for three/four/eight consecutive years in a key development industry, and lived in China for a total of at least one/two/four year/s during that period, and earns a salary at least four/six/three times the city average.

Investors

● Those who invest at least 10 million RMB (S$1.99 million) in China; regional investors in China who encourage foreign investments, and who satisfy requirements on investment amount, tax amount, and number of Chinese citizens hired; and those who set up advanced technology or innovation companies in China with significant results, and who are recommended by provincial or municipal departments

Foreigners with family needs

● Chinese citizens or foreigners with permanent residence whose spouse, parents, or immediate family live in China, and who have lived in China for at least five years and spent at least nine months each year in China, with a stable lifestyle and abode; immediate family members with foreign citizenship aged at least 60 years.

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