The growing trend of people emigrating to and from China has prompted Beijing to set up a new agency to coordinate immigration policies and their implementation.
It comes as Beijing ramps up measures to attract more skilled foreigners to China for work – efforts that are often undermined by red tape, particularly the complicated visa application process.
Managed by the Ministry of Public Security, the new immigration bureau will be responsible for overseeing visas, repatriation of people found to be in the country illegally, and border control. It will also provide exit and entry services for Chinese nationals.
In addition, the Ministry of Science and Technology will take over the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, which handles employment of foreigners, under a government reshuffle plan tabled on Tuesday at the National People’s Congress.
“Along with the rise of China’s power, an increasing number of foreigners have come to work and live in this country, which means better immigration services are needed,” State Councillor Wang Yong told some 3,000 lawmakers at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The plan is expected to be endorsed by the NPC later this week.
There were more than 900,000 foreigners working on mainland China in 2016, according to official data, compared with only 10,000 in the 1980s.
China meanwhile granted permanent residency to 1,576 foreigners in 2016 – a 163 per cent jump from the previous year – under a “green card” scheme that began in 2004.
The number of Chinese going to live in other countries is also on the rise, going from 4.1 million in 1990 to 9.3 million in 2013, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
But moving to China for work is no easy task for foreigners. Applying to work in the country can be a lengthy and difficult process, with an employment visa and a residence permit required. Foreigners must also register with local police within 24 hours of arrival, and when moving to a new place.
Israeli Eli Beck, founder of EDB-China, which offers business development services between China and Israel, said he welcomed the move to set up a new immigration bureau.
“In the past when we applied for a work visa and residency permit, we used to wait in lines, file our applications and then go to other locations to file another document. It’s time-consuming and complicated,” Beck said.
He added that some of his colleagues had applied for a Chinese green card, but none were successful.
“The requirements are very strict and very demanding. I guess very few [foreign] people qualify for it,” Beck said.
An official at a Shanghai immigration checkpoint run by the public security ministry said his department would come under the new agency, with the aim of providing a one-stop service.
“In the future, various departments dealing with different immigration issues will come under the bureau’s umbrella. It will be more convenient – both for us government officials and for people who need immigration services,” said the official, who declined to be named.
“But I don’t think it will be easier for foreigners to get green cards because there’s no change to the rules there. Applicants will still have to put together all the same paperwork.”
Wang Huiyao, director of the Centre for China and Globalisation, a think tank in Beijing, said it was high time an immigration bureau was set up.
“With so many departments involved and a complicated application process, moving to China can be a real headache for foreigners and the bureaucracy has also put off international talent from coming here,” Wang said, adding that a central agency could provide a better service and more welcoming atmosphere.
Beijing-based lawyer Jiang Junlu, who specialises in labour issues and social security, said China needed to do more to lure skilled workers from overseas. He added that Beijing should also get tough on those who are in the country illegally and managing people with multiple nationalities, without elaborating.