CHINA- China will speed up the exploration of immigration policies this year to attract skilled foreign workers, a senior official said on Thursday. However, Zhang Jianguo, head of the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, did not give details on when the policies will be introduced.
Experts said Zhang's remarks show that China may, for the first time, single out skilled workers as a special category in its general immigration polices, as the country faces a shortage of such workers.
Wang Huiyao, director of the Center for China and Globalization, said the government urgently needs to revise its immigration policies to attract more highly skilled foreigners.
"China's population is aging quickly and we also need more skilled workers for our economic upgrading," he said. China needs to loosen its immigration policies, including giving citizenship to skilled foreign nationals, he added.
Such immigration policies are common in Western countries, which roll out favourable measures for the skilled foreign workers they lack.
China has experienced a talent "deficit" for years. In 2012 alone, more than 148,000 Chinese obtained overseas citizenship, while just 1,202 expatriates were granted permanent residency in China, according to a report by Wang's centre on Wednesday.
China usually grants its version of green cards to foreigners in certain categories: Businessmen who have invested at least $500,000 in the country; technical personnel such as managers; people with skills "needed by the State" and spouses of Chinese nationals, providing their marriage has lasted at least five years and they have lived in China for at least nine months in each of those years.
Zhang said his administration will seek global talent this year to help China achieve a green economy, better environmental governance, agricultural modernization, and to boost Chinese companies' branding worldwide.
Wang said only 6,000 expatriates have received "green cards" in China since the country started to grant foreigners permanent residency in 2004.
Most of these green card holders are ethnic Chinese with foreign passports, or foreign specialists invited to work in China under government-funded programs, and their spouses, he said.
Wang suggested China release an occupation list highlighting the professionals it needs most, and that the list be updated every three to five years. This would give foreigners wanting to work and live in China some guidance, he said.
Ada Jen, a Chinese-American granted a green card in Beijing in 2012, said the threshold for the cards is too high.
"One of the qualifications stipulates that foreign applicants should make special contributions to China, but that is hard for us to prove," she said.
When she applied for the green card she provided several items, including photographs and certificates, to prove that she had worked for more than 10 years as a volunteer in the country.
But she said not all foreign applicants were as fortunate as she was.
"Some of my friends also did great work in the country, but it's difficult for them to get their hands on and supply certificates," she said. "They couldn't meet this requirement, so they had to drop their applications, even if their work was in high demand and they wanted to stay here to develop it."
Jen said that if the Chinese authorities relax the process required to obtain a card, this will make it more convenient for more foreigners, especially experts in their field, to research and study in the country.
Last year, the Beijing Exit-Entry Administration Bureau received 271 applications from foreigners for green cards. Of these, 147 were from overseas specialists. By December, 911 foreigners in Beijing had permanent residency cards.
Wang Baorun, head of the exit-entry administration in the capital, said, "The demand has become stronger among foreigners recently."
Policies are being reviewed for foreigners, such as extending the validity of the foreign expert residence permit to five years from one year, Wang Baorun said.
But he said the handling of issues concerning foreigners, especially those who stay in China illegally, will also be developed under the Chinese Exit-Entry Administration Law, which took effect in July.
"Our major work this year is to crack down on illegal online employment agencies and illegal foreign teachers," he said, adding that punishment will include repatriation.
About 200 foreigners were deported from Beijing last year, according to the authorities.
In December, a foreigner on a motorbike knocked over a Chinese woman on a pedestrian crossing in Beijing's Chaoyang district. Initial reports saying that the woman threw herself in front of the motorbike to extort money from the foreigner proved to be false.
Beijing police said after an investigation that the man had violated traffic rules. Both he and his father were working in China illegally.
The motorcyclist was detained for five days and fined 5,000 yuan ($820) for working illegally in China. His father received 14 days' administrative detention and was fined 10,000 yuan. Both men were deported.