In a bid to attract international talent, China is considering lowering the requirements for foreign nationals to qualify for permanent resident status. That’s what Xinhua, China’s official news agency, is reporting based on information from the Communist Party’s Organization Department.
China has issued only six or seven thousand green cards since its 2004 permanent residence rules went into effect. This alone is evidence that the program needs to be re-tooled in order to become a meaningful magnet for global talent.
But why did the Organization Department make this brief announcement with no details about the policies under consideration? It seems to be a “trial balloon” being floated to gauge public and interest group opinions on the matter. If there’s significant public opposition, the door can stay stay nearly shut to immigrants, but if there’s no outcry the door can be nudged open.
The government does need to make at least minimal changes to the permanent residence rules in order to implement the new Exit-Entry Administration Law. That Law was passed in June 2012 and became effective July 2013. It calls on the Ministries of Public Security and Foreign Affairs, as well as other departments under the State Council, to define rules for application and adjudication of permanent residence applications. (Art. 47). More substantively, the Law specifies that foreigners who have “made outstanding contributions to China’s economic and social development or meet other permanent residence conditions in China” may be granted green cards. (Art. 47). This does not appear to be a significant change from the 2004 rules, according to which persons who have “made great and outstanding contributions and are specially needed by China” are among the categories who may be granted green cards.
One interest group that may be watching the Party’s trial balloon is Chinese holding foreign citizenship, who in the absence of dual citizenship rights would welcome easier green cards. Potential opposition to such a policy could come from China’s rural-to-urban migrants. Numbering in the hundreds of millions, they represent the biggest wave of migration in human history. Some may see generous green card laws as favoring integration of foreigners over integration of Chinese from the countryside.
This isn’t the government’s first trial balloon about facilitating green cards. For example, in July 2013 Xinhua quoted Yang Huanning, vice minister of public security, as saying that the new law will “increase the eligibility quota for green cards.” This despite the fact that no quota is mentioned in either the 2004 rules or the new Law. (Yang may have inadvertently leaked information about confidential internal rules.)
Hopefully, such trial balloons won’t be the government’s only method for measuring public opinion about the green card rules. Instead, hopefully the government will issue proposed rules seeking out public comments to be considered before the rules are finalized.