SINGAPORE - Many ethnic Chinese living outside of China will be able to apply for visas valid for much longer stays from Thursday (Feb 1), as the country tries to attract overseas Chinese to live and do business there.
Following changes to visa rules, foreigners of Chinese origin will be able to apply for visas valid for multiple entries over a period of five years, up from one year previously.
The changes will also see validity periods for residency permits for these foreigners extended from three years to five, reported the state-run China Daily last week (Jan 23).
China's Ministry of Public Security announced these changes last week, and said the move is meant to make it easier for these foreigners to "return home" to visit their families, do business and attend to personal errands.
A foreigner of Chinese origin refers to either a former Chinese citizen who has obtained foreign citizenship, or the children of present or former Chinese citizens, according to China's official definition, reported the South China Morning Post.
Such an individual would need to have one parent, grandparent or ancestor who is or was a Chinese citizen.
The changes would most directly affect former Chinese citizens and their children, since it would be easier for them to prove their Chinese origin by submitting official documents issued by China, such as copies of their Chinese passports or identity cards, or those of their relatives.
Documents issued by overseas governments certifying their Chinese ethnicity can also be submitted but these would have to be assessed by the Chinese embassy or consulate in the country of their origin, according to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office in Shanghai.
Some other countries with ancestry visas
The UK issues ancestry visas to people who meet certain eligibility requirements.
They must be Commonwealth citizens, be applying from outside the country, planning and able to work in the UK, and able to prove that one of their grandparents was born in the country.
They can stay in the UK for five years on this visa and can also apply to settle in the country permanently.
Long-term resident visas allowing holders to stay for up to five years are issued to a narrow category of people, including those who have Japanese ancestry.
Such individuals could be second- and third-generation children of Japanese citizens who settled overseas, or grandchildren of Japanese nationals.
Foreigners who were formerly Indian nationals, and their children and grandchildren can register to be an Overseas Citizen of India.
This is a multiple entry, multi-purpose lifelong visa to visit the country.
The country issues the F-4 visa to overseas Koreans, which include foreigners who were formerly Korean nationals, and their children and grandchildren.
These visa holders can stay and work in the country for up to two years, and can apply to extend their period of stay.
According to China Daily, Mr Qu Yunhai, director of the Ministry of Public Security's Exit and Entry Administration Bureau, said at a news conference last week that the move was an upgrade of similar measures issued in recent years to encourage overseas Chinese "to participate in China's economic development".
"Such rules have played a positive role in serving China's social and economic development and attracting talent with innovative and entrepreneurial spirit," he said.
Dr Yew Chiew Ping, head of the Singapore University of Social Sciences' contemporary China studies programme, said the visa changes are part of China's soft power strategy to reach out to more overseas Chinese.
"In this sense, the Chinese government may believe that overseas Chinese would develop more positive or favourable views of China once they visit or live there, and see for themselves the rapid and tremendous socio-economic transformation in the country," she said.
Ms Sun Xueling, chief executive of non-profit organisation Business China, said the new policy also complements China's goal to become a science and technology powerhouse, noting also that this would increase global competition for talent.
But she also added that the new visa, if executed well, would make it easier for Chinese Singaporeans to do business in China.
"China produces around 7 million graduates a year, but is adopting measures such as this to attract even more talents to power its economic growth," said Ms Sun.
Mr Charlie Li, who moved here from Shanghai when he was three and became a Singapore citizen 20 years ago, feels the visa changes would be useful for former Chinese citizens.
"I have grandparents in Shanghai, and this would make it easier for me if I need to return to take care of my grandparents when they get older," said the 29-year-old bank analyst.