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2018-03-14 11:13:03

As part of its recent restructuring plan, the Chinese government has proposed creating a national bureau to formulate and implement immigration policy.

The State Immigration Administration would merge the Exit and Entry Administration and China Immigration Inspection — currently separate departments under the Ministry of Public Security. The new administration would oversee exit and entry services for Chinese nationals and visa-related issues for foreigners living and working in the country. The move is part of a comprehensive government overhaul announced Tuesday.

Heidi Østbø Haugen, a researcher at the University of Oslo who has written several academic papers on immigration to China, especially in relation to Africans, told Sixth Tone that the bureau would serve as a centralized agency, thereby making regulations more transparent and uniform. Many immigration cases, she said, are handled at the local level, which leads to national regulations being inconsistently applied across the vast country.

“Setting up a separate immigration bureau indicates that the Chinese government wants to streamline immigration policies and allow less room for local adaptations,” Haugen said.

In 2013, China enacted its first comprehensive immigration law to promote foreign exchange while curbing the “three illegals” — entry, work, and stay. Since the country’s opening-up reforms of 1978, there has been a dramatic increase in foreigners living and working in China, from around 10,000 in the 1980s to over 900,000 by the end of 2016.

In 2004, China began offering 10-year green cards — a more permanent status that allows one to live and work freely without having to obtain and renew visas — to foreigners in a bid to attract more top international talent. However, the number of green cards actually issued is extremely low compared with countries like the United States, which has several programs, including a diversity visa lottery, for granting residency to foreigners.

In 2016, over 1,500 foreigners were given Chinese green cards — a 163 percent increase from the previous year. The same year, however, the U.S. granted nearly 1.2 million green cards to foreigners.

Edward Lehman, a senior fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the managing director of the law firm Lehman, Lee & Xu, echoed that the State Immigration Administration will consolidate all immigration-related information in a centralized database, making it more readily accessible to authorities. Imagine a Chinese version of the Department of Homeland Security in the U.S., Lehman explained, whose overarching responsibilities range from immigration and customs to counterterrorism, border security, and cybersecurity.

“It would help streamline the [whole] process, acting like a one-stop shop for immigration-related issues,” Lehman told Sixth Tone. The larger intention, Lehman explains, is to bring in foreigners who will contribute to the country’s development.

The cabinet reshuffling is but one example of the sweeping reforms being proposed at the first session of the 13th National People’s Congress, which convenes for just over two weeks in March. Last week, China’s legislature voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment that would allow the president and vice president to serve more than two terms. 

Other new government organs proposed under the reshuffling include a Ministry of Ecological Environment, a National Health Commission, and a Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission. Under the proposal, after the elimination of eight ministry-level bodies, the State Council, or cabinet, would consist of 26 ministries and commissions. China’s lawmakers are scheduled to vote on the draft proposal on March 17.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Two young women peruse pamphlets at an immigration and education fair in Beijing, Oct. 24, 2015. Mi Du/VCG)