A PLAN to make it easier for foreigners to obtain a Chinese green card is to be considered by the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone as part of trailblazing reform efforts to further open up and attract global talent.
Premier Li Keqiang has asked the zone to come up with a plan to simplify procedures for applications and the issuance of Chinese permanent residency permits for foreigners in the zone.
The zone covers about 28 sq km in suburban Shanghai and acts as a test site for what are considered China's boldest reform measures in decades.
"Complicated procedures for green card applications have impeded the FTZ in attracting global talent. The zone can submit a reform plan to the central government with improvement suggestions for the convenient entry and stay of foreign talent, especially those with outstanding competitiveness," Li said on Thursday.
He was speaking at a meeting with corporate leaders in the zone, half of whom are foreigners.
China began issuing green cards, or permanent residency permits, to foreigners in 2003.
Despite its efforts to lower the threshold for applications and to introduce new visa categories for foreign talent, a Chinese green card is still considered one of the most difficult to get globally.
To date, the country has granted about 5,000 of the permits to foreign applicants, or less than 500 annually, while the United States issues about 1 million green cards a year, according to Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalisation, a think tank in Beijing.
More than 1,700 green card holders are overseas professionals working in China, and the remaining permit holders are family members who have come to be reunited with them.
Talent from home and abroad with expertise in finance, management and information technology will be badly needed in the Shanghai free trade zone, according to a report released by the Shanghai Municipal Party Committee in May.
Robert Parkinson, chief executive officer and founder of RMG Selection, an executive search consultancy in China, said,"I think it's fairly difficult for many expatriates who work and live in China now to attain the green card.
"There are many documents that need preparing and a lot of complicated procedures to go through. Also, by the time an expat gets everything ready to apply for a Chinese green card, he or she might still be delayed by the endless qualification verification process."
Parkinson called for the green card application procedures to be simplified and for the government to consider easing visa restrictions for foreigners working in China.
Wang, from the Beijing think tank, said it is a "marvelous" idea to start green card reform in the Shanghai free trade zone and to gain experience that can be adopted nationwide.
"We have seen big companies such as Amazon opening an e-commerce platform in the Shanghai zone, and urgently need to reduce unreasonable barriers to attract more global talent there," he said.
However, he stressed that it will not be easy to reform the green card system because of conflicts of interest among administrative departments.