China is simplifying procedures to make it easier for top foreign talent to be granted permanent residency, a senior official in charge of foreign expert affairs has said.
Zhang Jianguo, head of the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, also told China Daily in a recent interview that China puts priority on courting more high-level foreign talent to speed up its economic and social development, including those with expertise in the environmental pollution and pollution treatment sectors.
Because current procedures for foreign experts to obtain permanent residency are complicated, China's top task force on talent is coordinating departments in an effort to fine-tune their service and speed up some procedures, Zhang said.
"(The goal) is to provide more swift and convenient service for those foreign high-end talents to settle down permanently in China for career and investment," Zhang said.
China usually grants its version of green cards to foreigners in certain categories, including businessmen who have invested at least US$500,000 (S$632,000) in the country; technical personnel such as managers; people with skills "needed by the State"; and spouses of Chinese nationals.
So far, only 6,000 expatriates have received such "green cards" in China since the country started to grant permanent residency in 2004, which allow foreigners to move in and out of China within their term of validity.
Other foreigners staying long term in China can get visas with multiple-entry permits valid from one to five years.
Last year, China added an R visa for foreign experts whose skills are urgently needed in China. Zhang said related agencies are working on details of implementing the R visa plan.
The administration is working with related departments to formulate new rules for the R visa "to guarantee a green passage" for foreign specialists who are interested in starting careers in China, Zhang said.
Zhang also said that for those foreign specialists who are living in China, the country aims to make their work and daily lives more convenient.
The number of foreigners studying and working in China has been rocketing in recent years along with China's growing economy and opening-up.
According to the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, around 613,000 overseas professionals came to work in China last year, and more than 60 per cent of them have worked longer than three months on the Chinese mainland.
However, Zhang said the number of high-end experts does not constitute a high proportion.
Attracting high-level experts in fields urgently needed by China in its modernization drive, including the environmental protection sector, will be a key task for SAFEA's talent programme, he said.
"For example, China's low-level trash disposal has left pollution problems, but in some developed countries such as Germany, trash can be recycled as resources to generate electricity, turning itself into a profitable industry," he said.
"We can learn from them the advanced technology and mechanism," Zhang said. "Also, the implementation of China's environmental regulations will forcibly promote an industrial upgrade and bring out a broad development prospect in clean energy, pollution control and circular economy."
China has experienced a talent deficit for years, which creates a dire need for foreign specialists to drive the country's future growth.
In 2012 alone, more than 148,000 Chinese obtained overseas citizenship, while just 1,202 expatriates were granted permanent residency.
As China's leading agency in charge of foreign talent affairs, SAFEA has collaborated with more than 300 institutions from over 60 countries to exchange information about specialists.
Zhang said the administration aims to gradually enlarge its talent pool through exchanging information with its foreign counterparts.
To court more skilled foreign nationals, China has been exploring skilled immigration since 2010, and a wide range of research on the topic is ongoing, Zhang said.