China: Equal Rights? Analysis of the Administrative Measures for Treatment of Foreigners Residing Permanently

Newly published “Administrative Measures for Treatment of Foreigners Residing Permanently in China” proclaim in broad terms that those with green cards should be treated equally with Chinese citizens.

The stated policy behind the measures is to attract overseas talent and investors to participate in the nation’s construction, bringing innovation and foreign-invested businesses to China.

The measures are a bold pronouncement that the government seeks to include green card holders in the fabric of society. Yet it’s far too early to know the real impact of the pronouncement.

Summary

These measures have been jointly issued by the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Organization Department, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the Ministry of Public Security, and other departments.

Our firm’s unofficial English translation of the measures is here. The measures are divided into twenty paragraphs mostly focusing on different civil rights in China. They go into effect immediately. The most notable include:

  • Foreigners may be evaluated for “technical professional” positions and take related qualification exams. This could potentially portend foreigners licensed as PRC doctors, architects, and engineers. (Positions such as lawyers and accountants may not count as “technical professionals.”)
  • Children who are permanent residents qualify to enroll in government schools for compulsory education (1st through 9th grade) paying standard fees set by national regulations.
  • Permanent residents qualify for basic medical insurance and retirement insurance under the terms of local programs. They may also participate in the Chinese housing fund.
  • Permanent residents may purchase commercial housing for their own residence and use without regard to current rules limiting property ownership by foreigners.
  • Permanent residents will have the same rights as citizens related to banking, insurance, and investing in securities.
  • Permanent residents, apparently, cannot establish PRC companies under rules that apply to PRC citizens but instead must continue to establish companies under the rules for foreign-invested enterprises.
  • While permanent residents will not be required to apply for Foreigner Employment Permits, they still will need to go through existing procedures to apply for Foreign Expert Certificates, Returning Experts Certificates, and local talent work and residence permits.

Exceptions

The measures state that “in principle” permanent residents “shall enjoy same rights and bear the same obligations as Chinese citizens, except for political rights or as otherwise specified by law or regulation.”

By granting equal rights only “in principle,” it’s possible that the measures will be interpreted as merely advisory in nature not as enforceable rights.

Also, the measures create an exception for any “law or regulation” which treats green card holders differently than Chinese citizens. This could allow local, provincial, and national policymakers to create any exception they please.

Another exception is for “political rights.” That term is used in Article 34 of the Constitution to refer to the right to vote and stand for election.

Conclusions

The announced measures are an important symbol that the Chinese government seeks to be inclusive.

Yet the newly published measures apply only to the presently small number of persons with Permanent Resident Cards. Only 4,700 foreigners had received the cards as of the end of 2011, out of the 600,000 or so foreign nationals actually residing in China. Overall, the number of foreigners residing in China is extremely low as a percentage of the population when compared with many other countries. Still, there is some discussion of relaxing the stringent written rules and unwritten policies that limit green card issuance.

It’s worth mentioning that some foreigners who are long-term residents of China will not be interested in applying for green cards because equal treatment with Chinese citizens may include taxation on worldwide income and assets, which they prefer to avoid.

The measures should also be considered from the point of view of domestic politics. For one thing, a key driver behind the measures may be the large number of Chinese who have emigrated, taking foreign nationality (and losing PRC nationality, since dual nationality isn’t recognized). These measures may be considered an important way to woo emigrants back to the motherland. For another thing, a limiting factor in implementing the measures may be the desire not to cause internal strife by putting foreigners ahead of China’s millions of internal migrants who lack access to the benefits promised to green card holders, such as the ability to send their children to local government schools and to tap into the local social insurance programs.

The real impact of the measures will become clear over time as existing rules are (or aren’t) rewritten and policies are (or aren’t) adjusted to conform with the measures.

Links

“Administrative Measures for Treatment of Foreigners Residing Permanently in China” (Chinese)

“Administrative Measures for Treatment of Foreigners Residing Permanently in China” (our firm’s unofficial English translation)

Bill Bishop, Sinocism China Newsletter (Dec.19, 2012) (excerpting this article)

Zhang Qizhi, Foreigners with Green Cards to Get Key Rights in China, CRI English (Dec. 17, 2012)

Yang Jingjie, Green Card Holders to Get Same Rights as Chinese, Global Times (Dec. 12, 2012)

CCTV Dialogue, Legal Permanent Residency for Expats in China (Dec. 16, 2012) (The guests were Wang Huiyao, who was introduced as a Visiting Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School but also holds multiple PRC government appointments per Wikipedia, and Einar Tangen, whose LinkedIn profile lists him as a CCTV employee but was not identified as such)

4 Replies to “China: Equal Rights? Analysis of the Administrative Measures for Treatment of Foreigners Residing Permanently”

  1. In my experience, the Chinese government has been making attempts to include permanent residents into the society at large at least in minimal ways. I think the latest law is basically to reinforce what has always been the policy yet largely ignored more out of lower level stupidity or ignorance.

    For example, since the beginning banks have been told that permanent residents should be treated as “domestic persons” for banking purposes with the government believing that they didn’t have to hold a stick over a banks head to get them to comply. Lately, however, they have been seeing that banks defy logic and common sense by not automatically considering green card holders differently than they would a normal run-of-the-mill expat. Thus the need to dumb it down and cram it down the throats of lower level entities with the most recent regulations.

  2. Hi Gary

    I ran across your blog spot “equal rights for foreigners” 2012 and noted you referred to me as an employee of CCTV, based on my LinkedIn profile. I just wanted to correct that as I am a commentator who is paid only a travel fee which I donate to charity.

    I thank you in advance for making the correction. By the way I liked your comments on the subject. Take care and best of luck.

  3. Interesting read. I decided not to apply for permanent resident status. I’m a working professional married to a Chinese citizen for 8 years, and I’ve lived in China continuously for more than 10 years. I am also an foreign expert and work with the government. But the government forgot to apply for my health insurance and doesn’t treat my son born in China as a citizen. I question whether rights granted to me as a permanent resident would be meaningful. p;-) Cheers, Mark

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