Experts urge easing of requirements for permanent residence
A total of 1,576 foreigners were granted Chinese permanent residence in 2016, which is widely regarded as the world's hardest-to-get "green card," an increase of 163 percent from the previous year.
Observers said that the surge is closely related to the pilot programs launched in Chinese metropolises in recent years and reflects China's push to tap into more international talent to increase the country's global competitiveness.
China has made some progress in easing its residence and entry policies for foreigners since September 2015, which has helped attract more talent from overseas, as well as boost international exchanges and the economy.
One year after new measures were implemented, Shanghai saw a six-fold year-on-year increase in the number of permanent residence applications from foreigners and their families, the Xinhua News Agency reported. The number of such applications in Beijing last year increased 426 percent from that of 2015.
Currently, approximately 600,000 foreigners are believed to be living in China.
While acknowledging the significant progress in attracting international talent to China, some experts said that the regulation on Chinese green card could be further relaxed and some requirements need to be made more specific.
The green card, which looks like a Chinese identity card, is famous for being difficult to obtain and rare to have. The card, which has a validity of 10 years, can be used as a form of identification by foreigners in lieu of their passport for purposes such as buying a train ticket or booking a hotel room.
To qualify for a green card, a candidate has to either be a "high-level foreign expert helping with China's economic, scientific and technological development or social progress," make an outstanding contribution to the country, invest over $500,000 in China or have direct relatives who are Chinese nationals.
China began to allow permanent residence in 2004, but from 2008 to 2014, only 7,356 foreigners were granted permanent residence cards, based on recommendations from ministries or provincial governments.
After six months of completing a plethora of paperwork and waiting, Turkish national Noyan Rona, chief representative of Turkish Garantibank Shanghai, received his permanent residence card in Shanghai in 2012. He told the Global Times that he was thrilled to get the green card as it is an acknowledgement of his contribution to the city and with the card, it is very convenient for him to use an entry machine at border crossings.
However, Rona acknowledged that the Chinese green card is not as useful as he had expected.
Rona said that the green card didn't grant him the same rights as Chinese citizens and the use of the card at present is very limited - only customs recognizes the card and exempts him from filling out forms.
"On many occasions such as buying a plane ticket and checking into a hotel, the staff did not recognize the green card and some of them even did not know the existence of such a card. Moreover, it can't be used for Alipay, an online payment service, and online car-booking services," said Rona.
But Lu Miao, executive secretary-general of the Beijing-based think tank Center for China and Globalization (CCG), told the Global Times that "The rapid increase in the number of green cards shows China is pushing to attract more international talent and make it easier for them to become permanent residents. It will also help in attracting more overseas students." She added that China is mulling to establish a new department to promote immigration.
Miao suggested that the threshold for green card should be further relaxed. For example, "the requirement of working in China for four consecutive years" should be reduced to three years.
At present, 15 Chinese cities allow a 72-hour visa-free entry for nationals of certain countries. Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang offer 144-hour visa-free stays for international transit passengers from certain countries.