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Opinion
How to Handle Permanent Residence for Foreigners?
  ·  2020-03-13  ·   Source: NO.12 MARCH 19, 2020

(LI SHIGONG)

The draft rules on permanent residence for foreigners were recently published by China's Ministry of Justice, sparking heated and profound debates as it solicited public opinion. Some argue that China's economic development demands a great deal of foreign talent, while others worry that loopholes in the draft rules will be taken advantage of by foreigners who only intend to enjoy special treatment while making no special contribution to China's economic and social progress.

More foreign talent, please

Gao Ziping (China Daily): In the past several decades, China has introduced a lot of foreign experts who have made great contributions to China's economic growth as well as its scientific progress. Today, at a critical moment of economic and social development, we need high quality foreign talent more than ever before.

Talent in the areas of big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology is increasingly becoming the most soughtafter around the world. Many developed countries have created a series of targeted policies to attract talent, focusing on science and technology and foreign university science students.

As China joins the scramble for foreign talent, proper rules on permanent residence for foreigners are an important part of its strategy.

China formulated legal rules on permanent residence for foreigners in 1985, and in the newly released draft rules stresses the importance of strict scrutiny of foreigners' permanent residence and also demands that their legitimate rights be protected. On the basis of years of experience in managing foreigners, the draft rules have filled many gaps.

Liu Yuanju (The Beijing News): The draft rules have stirred up debate. People's resistance to permanent residence for foreigners might stem from worries or misunderstandings, so it's necessary to assess these heated arguments by referring to the draft rules themselves.

According to the rules, in order to obtain permanent residence, foreigners have four channels.

First, foreigners with internationally acknowledged achievements in the fields of economics, science and technology, education, culture, health and sports will be able to apply for permanent residence.

Second, talented foreigners in urgent demand in some industries or regions of the country who are recommended by relevant authorities including university professors and senior managers of high-end enterprises can apply for permanent residence.

Third, foreigners who invest at least 10 million yuan ($1.42 million) in China or in an area under the country's encouragement that meets prescribed standards of investment, tax payments and the number of Chinese citizens employed are eligible to apply.

Eligible applicants also include spouses of Chinese citizens, but applicants must be married for at least five years and reside in China for full nine months every year. Their minor children and elderly parents can also live with them. This is a common practice in managing permanent residence for foreigners around the world.

Thus, it is not an easy job for a foreigner to gain permanent residence in China. So why are some Chinese citizens complaining about the draft rules?

It's possible they have neglected the positive side of importing foreign talent and indeed there are some vague definitions in the rules. More importantly, there is worry that foreigners will be granted super-national treatment, which there is evidence of, but this should not be used as an excuse to reject all foreigners.

To solve this problem, public service departments must change their attitude and improve their service to Chinese citizens, instead of neglecting them and fawning on foreigners.

Whether it's to boost Chinese economic development and science progress or to expand China's international influence, attracting talented foreigners to work and live in China is undoubtedly the most effective and cost-saving policy. We all know that the United States rose to the status of a superpower after World War II because it recruited talent from around the world.

China's development needs further opening up, which necessarily includes allowing foreigners to have permanent residence. Thus the introduction of foreign talent is an inevitable choice.

Too many loopholes

Ma Guangyuan (finance.sina.com.cn): We have never denied how important it is for China to encourage talented foreigners in various areas, so let's not waste time talking about whether China should give qualified foreigners permanent residence.

The problem is in the huge loopholes that have been discovered in the draft rules.

First, the threshold for application is too low. While stipulating that foreigners with internationally acknowledged achievements in certain fields can apply for permanent residence, the draft rules also has Article 19 that seems to say that any foreigner is likely to gain permanent residence. It explains that foreigners who have other proper reasons for applying for permanent residence in China will be able to apply for the status. What are these so-called "other proper reasons?" Permanent residence is a very important right, so I don't understand why there is such a vague article on such an important issue.

Chinese citizens are justified in worrying about this article being abused because it stipulates that entry and exit administrative institutions above the county level have the right to handle foreigners' application. However, it should be at least at or above the provincial level and the final approval should be made by relevant ministries.

To label someone who has worked in China for several years a talent is insulting to the word. If China needs to bring in foreigners, then these people must be talented in the real sense. Such elites need to be selected from the international market, but they seldom stay here in China, say, doing manual work.

Second, if Chinese citizens are to be persuaded to give the nod to permanent residence for foreigners, a basic principle is that successful applicants should not enjoy super-national treatment. This is the bottom line. If they want to enjoy the country's welfare benefits like Chinese citizens do, they must meet the requirements in demand.

If permanent residence grants foreigners better treatment than Chinese citizens, a possible negative result is that some Chinese citizens will choose to emigrate. They will first make themselves "foreigners" and then apply for permanent residence in China. It's ludicrous, but it could bring many tangible benefits.

Third, for foreigners not eligible to apply for permanent residence status, the rules are too lax. There are six clauses under Article 26, which defines the situations under which foreigners cannot receive permanent residence. Not a single one of them mentions that foreigners with criminal records are ineligible, which is a dangerous loophole.

I'm not against attracting foreign talent, but before competing for talent with other countries, we have a lot to do to retain our own talent. Every year, a huge number of graduates from China's top universities leave for the United States. It's ridiculous to poach foreign talent, many of whom are no match for Chinese talent.

Yuan Lanfeng (www.a-site.cn): It's great to import high quality talent, such as those who work in science research institutes and top universities. They get their titles and status in China thanks to their professional excellence and contributions to the country. However, I've found a big flaw in the draft rules: The criteria for talent are somewhat conflicting.

High requirements for someone called a talent appear in Article 13, which stipulates foreigners who are recommended by China's key universities and science research institutes and have professional titles like assistant professor and assistant research fellow may apply for permanent residence.

However, there is a newly added section regarding permanent residence application which states that foreigners with doctoral degrees or diplomas from an internationally renowned university who have worked in China for at least three years and have resided in China for at least a year are eligible.

It's funny that these two criteria exist in the same legal document. Science researchers who are capable of serving in prestigious universities and research institutes are a rare talent even among doctors, but not every PhD holder is a top talent.

China has sent a huge number of top university graduates to other countries, and news that Chinese students studying in U.S. universities make breakthroughs in scientific research is not rare, but seldom do we hear that foreign students studying in China have done so.

People worry that if the current trend continues, unqualified foreign students will acquire an academic degree and bring their whole family to China after gaining permanent residence by working in China for three years. I don't think this will help China's economic and social development.

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

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