China's new visa regulations benefit foreigners


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Grumbling seems to be mounting over new regulations on exit and entry management for foreigners, which took effect on September 1 following China's Exit and Entry Administration Law that officially came into operation in July. 

While some China observers complained the "tightened" regulation would "increase scrutiny," "lengthen waits" and "irk foreign firms," others commented sarcastically that the new rules might prompt more transnational marriages in China, a relatively easy way to stay here legally.

One rule that stirs up the most controversy seems to be the stipulation that processing of residence permits is extended to a maximum of 15 working days, which, according to a recent Reuters report, upsets foreign executives in China for disrupting "essential business travel within China and abroad." 

This sharply mirrors a pragmatic challenge China faces in managing the great tide of foreign immigration. By the end of 2012, there were 633,000 foreign residents in China, up from 525,000 in 2010. In 2012, the overall number of foreigners entering or leaving China reached 54.35 million, up by 168 percent compared with the number in 2000. China's foreign population structure has grown increasingly complex and illegal activities are more prominent.

There have long been calls among experts to reform China's exit and entry management system. China initially inherited the Soviet model, and later gradually relaxed the system to cater to the needs of reform and opening-up. Nowadays, it faces another critical stage to fix urgent loopholes in the system.

Meanwhile, stricter scrutiny is just one side of the coin. Aiming at the buildup of more coordinated, detailed management, the new rules seek to maximize benefits enjoyed by both Chinese and foreign residents, while minimizing the negative side effects brought by foreign immigration. For instance, the new R visa category for high-level talent and specialists will actually make it easier for both high-end employees and employers.

Stricter entry and exit regulations, together with the 100-day crackdown on foreigners who enter, work or stay in China illegally, has been interpreted by some as Chinese xenophobia and a symptom of China's worsening business environment for foreign firms. It is just a simplistic stereotype. 

China, like any other country, faces the daunting task of managing a transnational population amid globalization and a fierce battle to attract global talent. As foreigners flock into China for opportunities, the nation has to create more legal channels for them and truly share with them the dividends brought by China's growth, which is in accordance with the interests of both sides.

There is no way China can go against the trend of further opening up and embracing international talent. It just has to ensure through reforms that such immigration is regulated in an effective, responsible way. 

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