Monday, May 12, 2008


Andrew Lillis
Lehman, Lee & Xu

In 2004 China officially began issuing permanent resident cards, known colloquially as Green Cards, to foreigners who meet certain criteria. In spite of the name though there are fundamental difference between China’s Green card and “Green Cards” in other countries such as the United States and Ireland. The main aim is the same; to allow non citizens to reside permanently in the country and enjoy similar rights to citizens though the means of acquiring a green card is somewhat different.

Fundamentally Chinese is not known as a country of immigrants and its immigration laws did not allow foreigners to reside permanently in the country until 1986 when the National People’s Congress adopted the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Entry an Exit of Foreigners. China however is changing and record numbers of foreigners, attracted by China’s rapid economic growth and potential business, are settling in China. This influx of foreigners was the catalyst for the introduction of China’s own Green Card system; with the dual goal of attracting foreign talent to China and giving recognition to those already here who make significant contributions to the country’s success.

In spite of the large numbers of expatriates in China (recently the number of foreigners with resident permits in China was estimated at 250,000) only 649 “green cards” were issued in the first twelve months of the scheme’s operation. Compare this to the United States where each year approximately 1,000,000 green cards are issued. One of the main issues for the disparity is the relatively narrow scope of the regulations. Under the law, enacted in 2004, Green Cards are available to those who fall within one of four categories;

1. Be a high-level foreign expert holding a post which promotes China's economic, scientific and technological development, or social progress.

High level expert is defined as those “having assumed the posts of deputy general manager or deputy director of plants or higher level posts or posts of associate professors or associate research fellows and similar posts for more than four years in a row” meaning this is reserved for those holding high level jobs in their respective enterprises and high level academics. It is somewhat narrow; the foreign manager of a PR firm, for example, would not be entitled to the status as such jobs are not within the scope of the regulations.

2. Have made outstanding contributions of special importance to China

This category is reserved for exceptional individuals and in practice is rarely used.

3. Have made a large direct investment ranging from US$ 500,000 to $2,000,000 in China

The applicant under this heading must have resided in China continually for 3 years and have invested one of the following amounts

a. $500,000 if the investment is in an “encouraged” field or if the investment is in one of the less developed western regions of China.
b. $1,000,000 if the investment is in the central region of the country.
c. $2,000,000 if the investment is elsewhere in the coastal regions of China.

4. Have come to China to join family members such as spouse, dependent minors or senior citizens.

This applies to both the dependents of those foreigners granted a green card and certain dependents of Chinese nationals. In order for the foreign spouse of a Chinese national to apply they must first reside in China for at least nine months every year for five years. For the parents of a Chinese national to apply they must be dependent on the Chinese national, be over the age of 60 and intend to reside in China for more than nine months each year.

Once granted the Green Card holder enjoys the same rights as Chinese citizens with two exceptions; they cannot participate in elections and they cannot serve in the armed forces. They do however enjoy educational benefits for their children, the ability to buy property, establish a business and the ability to enter and exit China without the need for a visa. Furthermore holders retain the benefits accorded to foreigners in China, such as preferential tax status. The validity of a green card is 10 years after which there is a routine renewal process.

More information can be found at on the website of the Beijing municipal government