China’s Immigration Administration Out of Whack with International Norms

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Dialogue with other governments’ admin procedures urgently needed

By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Aug. 29 – With the recent problems over the issuance of visas to China both before and now following the Olympics, it has become increasingly apparent that China’s national administration infrastructure is both subject to regional interpretations and a lack of international dialogue over the processing of information. Indeed, an assumption that all other countries follow the same administrative procedures as China is overwhelmingly obvious. It’s a cycle that needs to be changed.

China’s problem is two fold. Firstly, it is not unreasonable for China to start to clamp down on the issuance of visas, when for so long the process has been abused by foreign nationals. That abuse, which led in the main to foreign nationals effectively working in China without declaring taxes or obtaining proper documentation, has also led to a rash of fraud, embezzlement and security concerns.

Prior to the Olympics, China dealt with the influx of foreigners into the country purely by being lax with its own regulations. For many years, consequently, it was possible to live in China, hopping in and out on tourist and business visas, working in an office and having all your salary paid offshore. As China boomed, so did the number of foreigners who abused the system. It is clear that this somewhat free and easy visa issuing era in China has come to an end.

In solving this first problem however, China has not provided a credible alternative. Instead, it has looked inwards, and taken its own administrative processes and applied them to foreign nationals when it comes to applying for visas. There appears to have been no dialogue with foreign governments over whether now-requested documentation can in fact be provided by the state in question, neither does there appear to be in place any mechanism to detect whether an individual applying is in fact a credible businessman or an undesirable. This is dangerous. The determination of whether someone is or is not undesirable, or worse, a terrorist, should not purely be determined on academic qualifications.

As we reported yesterday, the issue over the requirement in some areas of China to produce a “no criminal offense” certificate when applying for a work visa has been poorly thought out. While there is nothing wrong with the concept, it ignores several key points:

1) The request for such a certificate from a police station in the applicants country of origin both ignores the fact many expats have worked overseas for years, and simply don’t have any contacts with their local police station in their home country;

2) It facilitates an expensive trip back home to request such documentation;

3) In many countries, the administrative procedure to supply such a document does not exist, nor would be likely to be issued by “the local police station” in countries such as the United Kingdom, most European nations, and the United States and Canada, where national, not local registers are kept of criminal offenders.

Here, the Chinese have purely followed their own domestic administrative system, which is still based on the hukou system of restricted movement. In this system, a Chinese national’s personal records are kept at their place of birth. All requests to move in China, or to engage in business (a “no-criminal record certificate” is required in China in order to register as a local director of a Chinese company) are provided for by the local police station in the hometown. Yet that is a uniquely Chinese administrative system. Such a procedure simply cannot be assumed to be in place in other countries—and largely it isn’t.

China needs to work more with foreign governments when looking to impose conditions on foreign nationals applying for visas. There is nothing wrong with requesting a “no criminal record” document. But the procedures and administration support in the country of origin need to be determined beforehand by the Chinese before they start to make it a visa requirement.

Certain nationalities, amongst them Indians and Brazilians, along with many others, have serious problems obtaining visas for China purely on the basis of their passport. Again, this appears to be a haphazard situation, implemented differently across the country. Yet China’s own administrative infrastructure appears little able to cope with determining whether or not an individual is undesirable or is in fact the managing director of a multinational business. Both are lumped into the same category. This is becoming an area of great concern, and is damaging China’s foreign direct investment environment. While unofficial, such a policy of discrimination purely on basis of nationality borders on racism. I doubt that is the actual intent, but clearly, a major disconnect is happening.

In short, it is now obvious that China’s own administrative infrastructure when it comes to immigration is woefully inefficient, ignorant of other nation’s administrative processes, and is unable to keep up with the post-Olympics modern image the nation demonstrated.

China needs to modify the immigration process, work more closely together with foreign governments over the sharing of certain immigration procedures and documentation, and develop a closer relationship with international criminal agencies such as Interpol if it is to rectify damage that is already being done to its business environment credibility.

China has a great opportunity to show the world it can follow up on its declared place in the international global community. Working closely with foreign governments before issuing new visa application procedures that may not be feasible, or showing it is smart enough to work out a way to determine between a genuine visiting businessman and someone turning up on the lam would be a very good way to start. It needs to happen immediately.