China to ease green card rules to draw foreign talent

A special office will be set up in Zhongguancun, China's "Silicon Valley", to handle green card applications and inquiries.
A special office will be set up in Zhongguancun, China's "Silicon Valley", to handle green card applications and inquiries.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

In its search for more foreign talent to help create a more enterprising and innovative economy, China will roll out new initiatives from March 1 to make it easier for foreigners, especially ethnic Chinese, to obtain the elusive Chinese green card.

Ethnic Chinese - such as former Chinese nationals now holding foreign citizenship and possibly foreign-born Chinese such as Singaporeans - who have a doctorate or have worked for four years in the Zhongguancun high-tech park can apply for the green card.

This is among the 10 initiatives unveiled yesterday to attract skilled foreigners, overseas- based Chinese citizens, foreign students, entrepreneurs and creative talent to the high-tech park located in Beijing's western Haidian district and dubbed China's "Silicon Valley".

Beijing city itself will adopt another package of 10 initiatives introduced in Shanghai last July to ease visa and immigration rules for foreign talent and increase their chances of securing permanent residency.

One of the Shanghai initiatives allows a foreigner who has earned 600,000 yuan (S$131,000) and paid 120,000 yuan in taxes for each of the past four consecutive years to apply for the green card, which will do away with the need for work visas and give the cardholder access to public services.

The Public Security Ministry, which announced the 20 initiatives on its website, did not give details on the salary and tax requirements for Beijing's scheme.

  • Drawing ethnic Chinese and other talent

  • • Foreign talent and family can enjoy "express service" in applying for China's green card, with a recommendation from Zhongguancun's administrative committee.

    • A special office will be set up in Zhongguancun to handle green card applications and inquiries.

    • Processing time for applications will be shortened from 180 days to within 50 days.

    • Ethnic Chinese who set up companies in Zhongguancun can apply for work permits with a validity of five years.

    • Ethnic Chinese who hold a doctorate or have worked for four years in Zhongguancun can apply for a green card, provided they accumulate more than six months of residence in China within a calendar year.

    • A points-based system will be set up in Zhongguancun for foreign talent, with those who meet the requirements eligible for a green card.

    • Foreign students will be allowed to take up short-term internships and to run their own start-ups in Zhongguancun.

    • Beyond Zhongguancun, Beijing will allow foreigners who meet salary and tax requirements to apply for a green card, adopting a similar scheme from Shanghai that stipulates 600,000 yuan (S$131,000) in annual income and 120,000 yuan in taxes for each of the past four consecutive years.

    • Foreigners who have successfully obtained two work permits with a validity of two to five years are eligible to get a five-year permit subsequently.

    • Foreigners from a select group of nationalities will be allowed to stay in Beijing for no more than 144 hours without requiring an entry visa.

    • Foreign talent who have a green card or long-term work permit will be allowed to employ foreigners as domestic helpers. Currently, they cannot do so.

    Kor Kian Beng

It said the aim is to attract foreign talent to Zhongguancun and Beijing, following calls by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang since 2013 for the park to lead China's efforts to boost innovation, which is deemed crucial in its economic transformation.

"The crux of competition between countries is the battle for global talent, who are crucial in seizing new opportunities and upgrading industries," said a Public Security Ministry spokesman.

Chinese permanent residency is one of the hardest to get, with only an average of 248 green cards issued a year since 2004.

A senior official in charge of Zhongguancun had proposed last November an "overseas Chinese card" allowing holders to enjoy permanent residency status. But the card is not among the new initiatives.

Singaporean James Tan, 40, who qualifies under the Zhongguancun initiative as he has worked in a venture capital firm at the park since 2011, is keen to apply for the green card - for patriotic reasons.

He has not been able to celebrate the Aug 9 National Day in Singapore with his family since 2010 as his work permit expires every August and his passport is held by the immigration authorities for three weeks for renewal.

"I'm definitely going to apply as it means I will be able to finally celebrate National Day back home," Mr Tan told The Straits Times.

IT director Chen Yang, 55, a former Chinese national who took up Japanese citizenship in 1997 and possesses a PhD, is keen to get a green card as it could allow him to visit his clients from the Chinese military units.

"I'm getting on in age and my family members are all in China. A green card will help me in settling back here," he told The Straits Times.

Singaporean Nick Song, 44, a partner at a law firm and based in Beijing for 11 years, said he would not be keen if becoming a Chinese permanent resident meant his global income would be subject to Chinese tax rates.

Immigration law expert Liu Guofu of the Beijing Institute of Technology said the new initiatives will make Beijing the most open Chinese city to foreigners, who now make up less than 1 per cent of the capital's workforce.

On why one of Zhongguancun's initiatives targets the ethnic Chinese, he said: "This is because they, due to a common language and culture, feel the strongest affinity for China and have the strongest incentive to get a green card."

• Additional reporting by Carol Feng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2016, with the headline 'China to ease green card rules to draw foreign talent'. Print Edition | Subscribe