China eases visa rules in a bid to draw talent

BEIJING • China is relaxing its visa rules for foreign workers in a bid to attract global talent to shore up its growth, even as US President Donald Trump put a dampener on immigration.

The move comes as business leaders, such as Baidu chief Robin Li, urged Beijing to make it easier for them to hire top global talent that might be "put off" by Mr Trump's restrictive immigration policies, financial magazine Caixin said in a report on its website.

A new pilot programme unveiled by the Ministry of Public Security last Thursday allows anyone who has been employed in China for at least two consecutive years to apply for a five-year work permit, the report said on Monday.

Previously, the report said, most foreign employees had to apply for a new work permit every year, even if they were hired on multi-year contracts.

It said the scheme is expected to be rolled out in the coming months in "demonstration zones for innovative reform" in a total of nine cities and provinces including Beijing, Wuhan and Hebei, and 11 free-trade zones including those in Tianjin, Chongqing and Henan province.

China has been seeking to ease visa rules for foreigners in recent years to attract the best brains to help bolster the slow-growth economy. China began giving out permanent residency in 2004, but just 7,356 foreigners were given permanent residency in the first 10 years of the scheme, out of an estimated 600,000 foreign workers.

Mr Li, the billionaire chief of Baidu, which is often referred to as China's Google, said last week that Mr Trump's stance on immigration offered China "a great opportunity" to attract skilled workers and help its technology companies compete against Silicon Valley.

His remarks came a day after Mr Trump signed a new 90-day ban on new visas for citizens from six Muslim-majority countries. His administration announced days before that it would temporarily stop allowing expedited applications for H-1B visas - a system widely used by tech companies to hire foreign workers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2017, with the headline 'China eases visa rules in a bid to draw talent'. Print Edition | Subscribe