The new visa policy for foreigners of Chinese descent makes it easier for Chinese living overseas to "return home." Photo: VCG
Ashley, a 35-year-old Chinese-Filipina, could not have been more excited when she saw an online news story announcing a new visa policy for foreigners of Chinese descent on February 2. Her first reaction was to send the news link to the human resource department in her company, a Beijing-based consulting firm where she works as a director.
"It would be very handy to have one. I am not sure what the implications are if I already have a work visa versus getting this visa for overseas Chinese. I just think it will be great not to have to renew my visa every year," she told Metropolitan.
Starting from February 1, foreigners of Chinese descent are able to apply for a visa that allows them to stay in China for up to five years or enter the country multiple times over the same period once they meet the prerequisites, according to a new visa policy from the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) on January 22.
Foreigners of Chinese heritage who want to come to China to visit their family and relatives, do business, have cultural exchanges or run personal errands can apply for a five-year multiple-entry visa, and those who already work, study, visit families and relatives or run personal errands in China and need to stay longer, can apply for a five-year residency permit, said the policy.
Before this policy, foreigners of Chinese descent could only get a one-year multiple-entry visa, and a residency permit spanning no more than three years in the country.
Qu Yunhai, the director of the Bureau of Exit and Entry Administration of the MPS, said in a January 22 press release that the policy aims to encourage and attract more foreigners of Chinese descent to participate in China's economic and social development.
"Over recent years, the Ministry of Public Security and other departments have promoted a series of measures to facilitate foreigners of Chinese descent to come to China. These policies have played a positive role in serving China's economic and social development and attracting talents with innovative and entrepreneurial spirit," said Qu in the release.
He added that the implementation of the new visa policy will make it more convenient for them to "return home."
The new visa policy will have a significant impact on the lives of Chinese descendants who make frequent visits to China. Photo: VCG
Ashley's hometown in China is in Fujian Province. Decades ago, her grandparents emigrated from Fujian to settle in Manila. She now holds a one-year multiple-entry work visa which takes around two to three weeks to process.
She embraced the new visa policy because of the ease of getting in and out of China without having to renew her visa every year.
"It puts constraints on my personal schedule and company-related activities," she said.
Lu-Hai Liang, a 28-year-old British national, left Guilin in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region to join his parents in the UK when he was five. Since he still has family in Guilin, he applied for a Q2 visa in September last year. But he has to leave China every 120 days.
The second visa type under the Q category, the Q2 visa is for foreigners who come to China to visit Chinese citizens or foreigners with permanent residency. It allows a short-term stay of up to 180 days.
Fan Li'na, an official at the Entry and Exit Administration of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, told Metropolitan that the new policy toward foreigners of Chinese descent ensures them a longer residency in Beijing, reduces their visa processing frequency and cuts the cost associated with frequently entering and exiting the country. But they still have to make the cut to get access.
"The maximum period of the visas is five years. But whether one can get the visas with the longest period still depends on whether they meet set criteria," she said.
Based on the documents she gave to Metropolitan, an applicant needs to provide materials including proof of his or her previous Chinese nationality, such as a Chinese passport he or she owned in the past, an ID card, a birth certificate or household registration and so on to qualify.
According to a staffer surnamed Xiong who works in the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the Shanghai Municipal Government, documents proving Chinese descent include copies of the applicant's, their parents' or grandparents' Chinese passports or ID cards.
Marina Yang, a 24-year-old student in Sydney, usually gets a standard travel visa for 60 or 90 days to visit her hometown in Shanghai.
As the first child in her family to be born outside of China, she tries to visit her family in China every three to four years. She said the main difficulty is getting an invitation letter from busy family members and making sure she has all the right details for the trip.
"I usually don't need to go through the same process when I visit other countries, but I understand why it is part of the Chinese visa application," she said. "It's just to inform the Chinese authorities of your traveling intentions and the identity of the locals they can get in contact with if any issues arise."
Yang said she appreciates the added convenience of the new visa because it gives people the opportunity to make long-term plans for a career in China.
"It indicates to people that their talents and skills are welcomed and that they can make a home in China," she said.
Mary Peng, a Chinese-American in her 40s, told Metropolitan that the new policy could be attractive to many haigui (Chinese who studied abroad).
"A lot of haigui become citizens of their host countries. Many of them want to come back (to China) to work but may have been discouraged by the fact that having become a foreign citizen, they need to apply for a one-year employment visa to return to their homeland where they were born and raised," said Peng, who is the CEO and founder of International Center for Veterinary Services in Beijing.
Peng, whose hometown is in Henan Province, said if she had a 10-year tourist visa she would be able to visit her family in Henan any time she wants, but she would have to leave the country every 60 days.
According to Fan, Chinese-Americans who meet the criteria for the five-year visa for home visits can stay in the country for the entire five years, as they are not required to leave the country after a certain amount of days.
A huge talent pool
According to Beijing-based think tank Center for China & Globalization's 2017 Report on China's Regional International Talents Competitiveness, almost 4 million of the current 60 million overseas Chinese in the world are professionals, including those who are foreign passports holders. They are also mainly employed in the fields of education, finance and high-tech. The report concluded that the professional group is a large overseas talent pool and a rich source of the kinds of talent that China hopes to attract.
It also noted that by the end of 2014, the percentage of foreign professionals in the Zhongguancun area had reached 0.56 percent, of which 74.86 percent were overseas Chinese.
Ashley hailed the new policy as a smart, decisive move by the government to recognize the presence and value of overseas Chinese and their role in the country's development.
"It (the policy) is also very important in terms of making it easier for overseas Chinese to discover or rediscover their roots and visit family on the Chinese mainland," she said.
"A couple of key factors that can contribute to its success would be if the process and requirements can be kept fairly simple and straightforward and if the cost is not unreasonable," she said.
In Peng's opinion, the policy will be more attractive to Chinese nationals who went abroad to study and became overseas citizens by marrying a local or converting their citizenship.
"However, for those who have not lived in China for a long time, it might not be as attractive because they don't know China very well," she said. "They have lots of other considerations and need a lot of time to really understand the opportunities and see what they can do to take advantage of them."
It is not the first time that the Chinese government released a policy that facilitates overseas Chinese.
In 2016, the MPS launched a pilot visa program to attract foreign professionals to develop Zhongguancun as a national center for science and technology innovation. According to the policy, foreigners of Chinese descent who have a foreign doctoral degree and work in Zhongguancun are eligible for permanent residency. Additionally, those who have worked for companies in Zhongguancun for four years and spend at least six months a year in China are also eligible, according to a 2016 Beijing Times report.
Already a Q2 visa holder, Liang said he would not apply for the new visa in the immediate future.
"I am fine with the requirement of leaving the country after certain days because I travel often anyway," he said.
However, he commended the move for acknowledging the pioneering and bold spirit of the Chinese who went abroad and their descendants.
"We are often entrepreneurial and resilient, and I have seen and heard firsthand their remarkable stories while traveling through Malaysia and Thailand," he said.
Liang said the government should encourage businesses and companies to employ foreign workers of Chinese descent.
"We are a bridge between the East and the West, and historically, overseas Chinese have been instrumental in forging cultural and economic links throughout Western countries, especially across Asia," he said.