China: Shanghai Eases Path on Visas, Green Cards for Foreign Professionals

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By Mark Melnicoe

July 21—Shanghai is taking steps to realize Chinese President Xi Jinping's goal of making China's largest city a global hotbed for scientific and technological innovation, announcing new rules that make it easier to attract and keep top overseas professionals.

Effective July 1, foreign experts, senior executives, graduates with advanced degrees and entrepreneurs living in Shanghai have an easier go with China's infamous red tape. The rules announced by the city's Entry-Exit Administration Bureau reduce the steps affected foreigners must take to get visas and residence permits and allow them to stay longer without going through the annual hassles of renewal.

To be effective, however, the rules, which are unique in China, must be coordinated across various city agencies.

Sheng Xiaobo, a visa management official of the Shanghai Exit-Entry Administration Bureau, made the announcement July 2 and said professionals can apply for their work visas at the city's ports of entry so long as they hold a valid work permit, the English-language China Daily reported.

Entrepreneurs must, however, present a formal business plan and evidence of a relationship with a local partner or “incubator,” the rules say.

Highly Paid Talent, Others Get Different Treatment

The rules affect different categories of professional talent:

• Those certified as “high-level professionals” or hired for five-year assignments by a company on a science and technology innovation list may apply for five-year residence permits.

• A second group of professionals is defined, for the first time, simply by income. Those who have worked in Shanghai for more than four consecutive years, spent at least six months of each of those years in the country, earned a gross salary of at least 600,000 yuan ($97,000) and paid tax of more than 120,000 yuan ($19,300) in each of those years can apply for a permanent residence permit (green card).

• Foreign nationals certified as “talent” on their residence permits who have worked in the city for three straight years may also apply for green cards.

• Foreigners who have applied twice and been granted residence permits valid for at least a year each may now apply for five-year residence permits on the third application.

• Foreign nationals employed for four consecutive years by one of the following companies may apply for permanent residence permits: National Laboratory, State Key Laboratory, National Engineering Laboratory, National Engineering Research Center, Technology Center of National Recognized Corporations, National Engineering Technology Research Center and Research and Development Center of Foreign Investment Corporations.

• Foreign graduates with plans to launch an innovative company may apply for a two-year “personal affairs” residence permit without applying for a work permit.

• Foreigners holding an employment/expert license may apply directly for a one-year residence permit or a Z (work) visa at either of the city's two airports, then get a residence permit. They no longer are required to leave the country to upgrade their visa.

 

Time, Coordination Required

Until now, only senior executives employed in high-tech industries or university professors could apply for green cards.

Only about 2,500 foreign nationals have received green cards in Shanghai in the past decade because the application criteria were “almost impossible to accomplish for most foreigners,” CCTV news reported. Officials predict the new policies will push the numbers up significantly, advancing Xi's economic goals for Shanghai.

“I think this can be a very good initiative to help the country, to help the city to be an innovation center,” an immigration manager in Shanghai told Bloomberg BNA on condition of anonymity because his comments might be construed as partially critical of the government. “On the other hand, I think it will still take some time because in China we don't have a unique immigration authority,”

“I think the new policy was issued in a rush, so they didn't have time to communicate with their counterparts in other departments,” the manager continued. “You usually have to go through many bureaus, such as Foreign Affairs and others. Immigration authorities will need to exchange their experience and work together and present multinational companies the whole package of how they can get the documents they want. It's just a start and with more time, this can stimulate the local economy.”

The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, in an e-mail to Bloomberg BNA, said: “Any change in regulations that gives companies greater flexibility to hire the kind of talent they need is welcome. However, there is still a lack of clarity about how these rules will work.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Melnicoe in Shanghai at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at rvollmar@bna.com

An official announcement of the new rules from the Shanghai city government is available in English at http://www.shanghai.gov.cn/shanghai/node27118/node27818/u22ai80307.html.

For more information on Chinese HR law and regulation, see the China primer.