Monday, May 12, 2008


Andrew Lillis
Lehman, Lee & Xu

Silent until this week on the extent of visa changes that have left hundreds of thousands of foreigners living in China scrambling, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang officially confirmed that China had made changes to its policy to “Safeguard national Security”.

China has been the target of three events in the past 8 weeks which have given officials cause for alarm and which have largely escaped international media attention; the attempted hijacking of a China Southern Airlines aircraft in the Western region of Xinjiang, the hijacking of a bus in the central Chinese city of Xi’an in which two of the hijackers were shot dead and a suspected act of arson on a bus during rush hour in Shanghai in which three passengers died. Add to this the Olympic torch protests and the recent protests in Tibet it is not difficult to see why China would want to tighten visa restrictions in order to better examine who is entering the country in the run up to the Olympic Games; a traditional target for terrorist attacks. This is especially the case with the head of Interpol, Ronald Noble, stating in April that a terrorist attack at the Beijing Olympics was a “real possibility”.

"We have made some arrangements according to the practice of the past Olympics and usual international practice. That is, in the approval process we are more strict and more serious with the procedure," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said. These new restrictions include establishing real time checks at China’s entry ports of travel documents against a database of some fourteen million lost and stolen passports.

What this translates to on the ground in China from an immigration point of view is new restrictions on foreigners – a significant proportion of foreigners resident in China will leave by July 1st due to their inability to extend their current status. The only possibility for many foreigners currently is to apply for a residence permit linked to a working visa; the requirements for which have got stricter in recent months; the legitimacy of the company involved is scrutinized and matters such as years of operation, registered capital and genuine need for foreign workers are examined. This is largely to prevent bogus enterprises from issuing work permits.

One group for which this has a major impact are those students pursuing internships in China – many multinationals have long established Summer intern programs which now must be curtailed because the traditional visa used for those on internships, the “F” visa, is now issued for non-extendable periods of 30 days and all applications must be accompanied by roundtrip tickets and hotel bookings for each night of the proposed stay. Previously the validity period was up to two years with no requirement for either air tickets or hotel bookings.

With the Olympic Games less than three months away we can expect to see further tightening of visa regulations, particularly from July 1st when the official “Olympic Period” begins.