In February 2016, China's General Office of the State Council issued its Opinion on Strengthening Management of the Service for Foreigners' Permanent Residency ("Opinion"), setting out a framework for the development of less restrictive requirements for permanent residency (Green Card) applications in China by foreigners, and more generous benefits.
The Opinion provides that Chinese authorities will establish more flexible and practical standards for foreigners who apply for permanent residency, including with respect to qualifying thresholds for an applicant's salary, tax payment history and credit rating. Applicants no longer need to be at a career level senior to deputy general manager/associate professor. In addition, the Opinion eliminates the requirement that applicants must provide a "significant contribution to China".
The Opinion also clearly specifies new benefits for Green Card holders, including unlimited stays in China, exemption from visa requirements on entry and exit and full rights as Chinese citizens with respect to work, home purchases, driver's license applications and child education. Visa and residence permit renewals will be required less frequently. One especially significant development is that a Green Card holder may now be hired as a foreign housekeeper in his/her home in China. In the past, foreigners could not serve as housekeepers within China.
Finally, the Opinion sets out guidelines for creating an easier application process: authorities will simplify application materials and shorten the time period for approval.
The Opinion's guidelines are promulgated on the national level — cities and provinces may also adopt local implementing rules which address practical details. The Shanghai authorities have already done this and recently released local regulations regarding Green Card holder requirements in Shanghai. Specifically, applicants for Green Cards in Shanghai must:
- Have worked in Shanghai for at least four consecutive years (and resided in China cumulatively for over six months each year);
- Have had an annual income exceeding RMB600,000 for four consecutive years;
- Have made tax payments in excess of RMB120,000 annually; and
- Be recommended by their current employer.
The Opinion does raise some questions for employers in China with respect to the employment of foreigners. Formerly, a foreign employee's employment relationship would end automatically upon expiration of the employee's work permit. But a Green Card holder can now legally work in China without a work permit, so the employment relationship could in theory continue. However, whether a Green Card holder may enter into an open-ended labor contract in China is unclear in practice. Companies that have or anticipate they will have foreign employees should monitor developments. We will continue to keep you apprised.
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