China launches revamped ‘green cards’ for foreigners

A file picture of a foreigner selling snacks in Beijing | Photo: Simon Song 

China will replace green cards issued to foreigners with “smart card” versions beginning in July as part of the government’s push to improve its imported talent scheme, state media reported.

Under the new directive from the Ministry of Public Security, which is in charge of residence affairs in China, holders of foreigners’ permanent residence cards can apply to renew the current permits with a new one embedded with a readable chip that contains identity information, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

The card can be swiped at various government agencies and institutions, making it easier and faster for foreigners to carry out tasks such as buying train tickets, Xinhua cited an unnamed ministry official as saying.

To ensure the new system is implemented without a glitch, training will be carried out by the end of June for staff at government agencies as well as railways, airports, banks, insurance companies and hotels, the official told Xinhua.

The introduction of the new green card is part of efforts by government leaders, including President Xi Jinping, to clear the path for skilled foreigners to settle in China.

In the 10 years after 2004 when the green card scheme was introduced, 7,356 foreigners have been granted permanent residency, even though some 600,000 foreigners were estimated to have lived in China. The number of cards issued has risen recently, with 1,576 foreigners approved for permanent residency last year, 163 per cent more than in 2015.

But many green card holders still view the document as merely symbolic rather than of practical use.

In theory, they need only the card to buy train tickets, check into hotels or open bank accounts.

In practice, given that the number of digits on the cards differs from mainland IDs and that many locals have never seen a green card, foreigners are still asked to show their passports.

The ministry said it is aware that public recognition of the card was low and would rename it the Foreigner’s Permanent Residence Identity Card. The new name, in both Chinese and English, would be printed on the card, it said.

There were more than 900,000 foreigners working on the mainland last year, according to the Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, compared with only 10,000 in the 1980s. Zhang Jianguo, head of the administration, said on Sunday foreign talent was an “indispensable source” of the nation’s innovation strategy.

China has announced a series of measures to streamline permanent residency applications, including relaxing restrictions for skilled foreign workers in big cities like Beijing, Guangdong, Shanghai and Chongqing.

Foreign students without work experience are now allowed to stay in China to take up jobs or internships after obtaining their masters’ degree or above, according to a directive jointly released in January by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Education. Before that, foreign graduates were required to have at least two years’ work experience abroad before they were allowed to take a job in China.

However, concerns over strict visa rules, heavy pollution, internet censorship as well as weak rule of law have complicated the government’s effort to lure foreign talent.

Read the original article on the South China Morning Post.

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