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Chinese Green Card System Continues to Evolve
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On August 22, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security promulgated the Administrative Measures on Approval of Foreigners' Permanent Residence in China. Qualifying foreigners may be granted the permit by the Chinese government. The holder's residence, housing, and employment in China shall not be restricted, and a visa shall not be required from the holder for entry into, exit from, or transit through the Chinese territory.

With the establishment of these measures, a "green card" system, the internationally accepted name for a resident management system, was called for as part of the process. This signaled that China would open its door wider to attract foreign talents.

Over the past three years, the implementation of this green card system has highlighted the country's reform and opening up efforts, and presented China as a world economic power with a unique culture to share.

From "limited access" to "green card"

In the 1970s, China was a mysterious country in the eyes of foreign visitors, with signs reading "No Admittance for Foreigners" prominently displayed in many places.

Jim Harkness (Chinese name: Hao Keming), chief representative for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in China, recalls his first visit to China in 1976. At that time, foreigners could only visit designated places, and had to be accompanied by a Chinese guide wherever they went; signs refusing admittance for foreigners could be clearly seen at many places. Dollars could not be exchanged into RMB; only foreign exchange coupons could be used at places like the Friendship Store. Additionally, foreign guests could only stay in hotels authorized to accommodate foreigners.

As China opened more to the outside world, changes started to take place. In November 1985, the NPC Standing Committee adopted the Law of the People's Republic of China on Control of the Entry and Exit of Aliens, defining guidelines for permanent residency of foreigners. In 1986, Werner Gerich, a German expert, was granted the first Foreigner's Permanent Residence Permit. As the former manager of Wuhan Diesel Engine Plant in central China's Hubei Province, he was also the first foreign manager in China since 1949.

Meanwhile, foreigners in Beijing were allowed to visit more places. After 1985, "No Admittance for Foreigners" signs were completely removed from the Beijing downtown area, and only 100 or so signs were kept in the suburbs.

However, Jim Harkness says, in the 1980s, activities of foreigners in China were still quite limited. For example, foreigners who went to visit the suburbs or the countryside were required to return to downtown within one day. "Such restrictions were not lifted until the 1990s," he explained. In 2003, Beijing canceled residential restrictions for foreigners. This meant that in Beijing, they could live anywhere they wanted, even in a resident's house.

From 1985 to 2004, the Chinese government approved more than 3,000 foreigners to live permanently in China, and by 2004 the figure had exceeded 200,000.

In September 2004, Joan Hinton (Chinese name: Han Chun), an 83-year-old American who had worked in China for more than 20 years, became one of the first 28 foreigners to get a Foreigner's Permanent Residence Permit in Beijing. She started working with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Mechanization Sciences in 1979, after a lifetime of raising and studying cattle. She was thrilled that she could finally fully embrace her "second hometown."

Dreams of China

An increasing number of foreigners now aspire to obtain a Chinese green card. Against the background of globalization, China has become an important part of the world market, attracting a growing number of foreigners to live, start businesses, and seek career development.

Mr. Vladislav, general agent for the Beijing representative office of Vladivostok Air, says that, in his six years in China, he has been most attracted to the social stability. He likes China's increasingly open and improved investment environment. Having brought his wife and two children to China, he is preparing to apply for Chinese green cards for the entire family.

According to the Ministry of Public Security, since China's accession to the World Trade Organization five years ago, the number of foreigners in China has increased substantially, with an average annual growth rate of 10%. They are engaged in investment, traveling, trade, studying, employment, and other activities. In 2006, the number of foreigners entering into and exiting from China reached 44,240,000, which was an increase of 97.6% compared to that of 2001. In 2005, 380,000 foreigners registered to live in China for more than one year.

Beijing, as the capital, is highly populated with foreigners. In 2006, more than 70,000 formally employed foreigners registered to live in Beijing for more than one year, not including 7,000 working in their countries' embassies in China and their families. By now, over 200 foreigners have received green cards in Beijing.

Sources form Shenzhen public security authorities indicate, since the implementation of China's green card system in 2004, Shenzhen exit and entry administration departments have received 52 application cases, 22 of them approved. In Shenzhen, registered permanent foreign residence has reached 14,000, and is still steadily increasing for business, investment, and employment purposes. In the first half of this year, 7,826 permits were issued by public security authorities, an increase of 9% compared to the same period last year. Those applying for the permit mainly work in fields like electronic machinery, computer software, logistics, and education.

China's rapid economic development has deeply impressed the world. Ma Jietao, an American, says: "It is really marvelous for China to have such tremendous changes taking place in such a short period of time; everything happens so quickly, just like in a movie. I love this innovative nation, and I love this passionate land."

Hello, China's "green card"

May 12, 2006 was a special day for Jin Bingjian, a Korean. On that day, he received his Foreigner's Permanent Residence Permit from the mayor of Harbin, becoming the first person to obtain a green card in northeastern Heilongjiang Province. He says: "I believe this is the utmost trust from the Chinese government, showing the most sincere friendship between us."

For a foreigner, getting a country's green card means being recognized by the country, thus national treatment can be enjoyed. The implementation of the green card system reflects the country's efforts to lift restrictions on the management of foreigners.

Ngoh Keh Chang, former chairman of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce in China said in an interview that China's implementation of the green card system was "exciting." Many foreign staff and business people can save their efforts in updating residence permits and employment permits annually.

Some scholars have commented: "This is not so much a simple reform in the management of foreigner's identity, as it is the country's innovative efforts to open more to the outside world."

Claudio, an Italian, has been in China for 15 years. He says, in China, a fresh look can be seen everywhere. The elders are optimistic, and the youngsters are diligent. The entire country is striding forward, as everyone is so passionate about life. In such an environment, every foreigner who loves China would covet a green card.

Some domestic scholars have pointed out that foreigners working in China, especially those who have green cards, have played a positive role in China's economic development.

In Shanghai, 34,753 foreigners are in active employment. They come from 119 countries, and 74.9% of them hold bachelors degrees, 11.49% masters, and 2.63% doctorates. 81.6% of them work in Shanghai's nearly 20,000 foreign-invested enterprises, mainly as senior technical experts or managerial staff at or above the middle level. Those working in the Shanghai offices of foreign companies or the Shanghai representative offices of foreign banks account for 13.5%.

It can be said that through the green card people begin to see a harmonious picture in which the world loves China and China needs the world.

In 1998, Eunice Moe Brock (Chinese name: Mu Lin'ai) sold her 40 acres of forests, villa, garden, cars and other personal belongings in the United States. She then moved to Liumiao Village of China's eastern Shandong Province. Besides living in the village and working together with the villagers, she has made donations for the village's education, health, and other issues. Not long ago, she expressed her wish to the media using the Chinese language: "I do hope to have a green card, so that I can live in China forever. I am an American, but I have a Chinese heart."

( by Zheng Na August 22, 2007)

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