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China pondering its own 'green card' system (1/5/2004)
With more and more foreign faces showing up on Chinese streets, people are no longer curious about foreigners. Statistics show that by now the number of registered foreigners working in China's inland has exceeded 60,000, most of them are concentrated in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen; while the number of foreigners traveling to China amounts to 70-90 million persons/times annually. With China-world economic ties becoming increasingly close, more foreigners are likely to pure in. Then should China institute a "green card" system? This means issuing permanent residence permits to foreigners who hope to live in China permanently? A recent interview by our reporter with entry/exit control departments reveals that the nation will introduce a "green card" system of its own in 2004.

Two kinds of residence permits for foreigners, the longest duration being five years
The words "lu ka" (are translated from the English terms "green card"). It represents permanent residence in America. Despite its name, it is now actually white in color, checkered with red and blue. Immigrant visa is closely linked with "green card", acquisition of the former makes it possible to get the latter. The green card system is generally practiced in immigration countries or countries that need foreign labor forces.

For different countries, green cards are highly flexible in terms of time limit. They are permanent in some traditional immigration countries such as America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. That is, cardholders are entitled to reside in these countries from their obtaining the cards until their death. Green cards of this kind are mainly granted to three groups: skilled workers, investors and those seeking for family reunion.

However, in traditional countries like Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark that bring in talented people, a long-term residence system with time limit is instituted for immigrant workers and professionals. Germany's "green card" only allows living and working in the country for three years, but can be extended for another two years upon its expiration. That is to say, German green card holders must return to where he or she comes from at most in five years, so the "gold content" of this card, so to speak, is much less than that of the American one. The green card system, for either permanent or long-term residence, is highly significant for foreigners.

Foreigners' life in Shanghai (2)
In China, foreigners residing in the country for over six months but under one year, a "temporary residence permit" is given by public security departments, and those living over one year are given a "foreigner residence permit" generally with a time limit of one year, which can be extended after their certificates are checked and accepted by designated public security institutions. In addition, foreigners working at posts as deputy-manager or above in foreign-funded enterprises and students returned from overseas could apply for a 1-5 year foreigner residence permit, but only a few of them really get the five-year permit.

Less than 50 permanent residence permits, more like honorary certificates, are issued nationwide
Does China have permanent residence permits for foreigners? According to the "Law of the People's Republic of China on the Administration of the Exit and Entry of Foreigners", foreigners who need long-term residence in China because they invest in the country, or conduct economic, sci-tech, and cultural cooperation with Chinese enterprises or institutions or engage in other activities, can be granted long-term or permanent qualifications with approval from competent government departments. However, according to the detailed rules on the implementation of the law, foreigners meeting with the above-mentioned requirements at most can generally be given five-year residence permits. China does have permanent residence permits for foreigners, but since permanent residence permits are rarely granted, it is better call them honorary documents than certificates. Statistics show no more than 50 such permits were granted to foreigners nationwide by 2001.

China doesn't have genuine green card at the moment
Even these permanent residence permits cannot be counted as China's "green cards", a public security official said. They can only be regarded as local green cards for a city or province, for green card is directly linked with immigration, therefore meaning some rights not possessed by short-term residents.

In America, green card holders enjoy almost the same rights with citizens of American nationality. On top of the rights of voting and being elected, permanent residents also enjoy political and economic rights given to American nationals in employment, medicine, insurance, social security and education. Of course they must bear duties as Americans do, such as paying tax. When a green card holder breaks American laws, one of the direct results is the withdrawal of his card.

Foreigners Learn Peking Opera
Though foreigners, during their stay in China, are entitled to basic rights such as right of the person, right of property and rights of employment and education, they don't enjoy some political rights exclusively for Chinese citizens such as voting and being voted, neither can they hold public office. Regulations in the past also confine foreigners in a certain range regarding their traveling, accommodation, house purchasing and medicine.

Yet in recently years foreigners enjoy more and more freedom in China due to loosened policies. Now they can choose by themselves the site of accommodation instead of going to hotels particularly appointed for foreigners. They have the same medical insurance with Chinese people and housing long reserved for Beijing residents are now open to them.

Absence of real green card system cause problems
Due to the lack of a real green card system, China's attraction to foreigners has been affected for they doubt whether their rights and interests can be guaranteed once come to the country. To further open the market of foreigner employment, it is imperative to install a green card system of China's own, entry/exit officials said.

Presently China sees very good opportunities for development, and we need more and more foreign talents since the WTO accession. But due to policy and law barriers some of them cannot go to China smoothly. International competition for talents is unavoidable in a time of economic globalization, and Chinese enterprises, in their seek for best brains, are appealing to the government for more flexible administration of foreigners. A green card system would no doubt meet the trend.

The establishment of a green card system would also play an important role in maintaining social order. Currently, illegal residence and employment of foreigners and using of expired visas are common in Chinese cities. For example, some language schools engage foreigners without residence permits in long-term teaching. Many restaurants take foreign students, at the cost of high salaries, as waiters to attract customers, regardless to regulations forbidding employment of foreign students.

The lack of a sound green card system is one of the important causes of illegal residing, official said. Therefore, establishing and improving a green card system will be crucial for keeping social order, maintaining the working environment for legal residents and protecting interests of legal investors.

Time mature for setting up green card system
Since the reform and opening up two decades ago, the Chinese government has made many adjustments on its administration on entry/exit and residence of foreigners. The issue was proposed at a CPPCC meeting as early as in February 2000. Statistics of 2001 showed that registered foreign employees in China have exceeded 60,000. The figure is rising and time for setting up China's own green card system is now mature.

Both Beijing and Shanghai are actively finding ways based on existing laws and have worked out more preferential policies. In Beijing, foreigners investing over 3 million US dollars could apply for five-year residence. In Shanghai, foreigners working in foreign-funded enterprises with a registered capital over 30 million dollars could directly get residence over one year. These policies paved the way for the establishment of a green card system.
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