China’s strict immigration policy – can S’pore learn from it?

China’s strict immigration policy – can S’pore learn from it?
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China gives PR to foreigners with US$87,000 salary while Singapore’s liberal policy benefits even those who come to be hawkers.

The New York Times reported last week (23 Feb) that China is rolling out a permanent residency programme. Last year, in a country of more than a billion people, 1,576 foreigners were granted PR status.

In general, China only issues a few hundred green cards per year so far.

“(China’s) green card program remains exceedingly small for a country of 1.3 billion people with about 600,000 foreign residents,” The Times said.

Dr Frank Pieke, a professor of modern China studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, observed that China’s policies, much like those of Japan and South Korea, were “predicated on a very strong nation-state that defines itself as the home of a particular ethnic and cultural group that wants to maintain its purity and wants to let in only what it really, really, desperately needs.”

To get PR status in China, applicants must show four years of residency and a yearly salary of at least 600,000 renminbi or about US$87,000. Green cards, unlike work permits, were not tied to job contracts and were valid for renewable 10-year terms.

The requirement for applicants to have at least US$87,000 per year salary ensures that low valued workers like some African or Arab traders and entrepreneurs will not be able to get green card residency, said the Times. And foreign traders who do obtain legal residence permits are generally limited to one-year stays with no guarantee of renewal.

To further control the quality of foreign workers working in China, a new work permit system will be launched nationwide in April this year. The system aims to build an information-driven economy by “encouraging the top, controlling the middle and limiting the bottom” of the pool of foreign workers, Chinese state news media said.

Mimi Zou, a Hong Kong law professor, noted that China makes it extremely difficult for workers on the lowest tier to obtain work permits. And that is because many domestic Chinese migrants are still seeking work across their own country.

In contrast, Singapore apparently has an over-liberal immigration programme as compared to China’s. As of June last year, Singapore already had a population of 5.61 million:

Of these, 3.41 million or about 60% are Singaporeans with the rest foreigners. The population of foreign residents or PRs was 520,000, just slightly less than the 600,000 figure of China.

And what about the quality of our PRs?

It is not uncommon nowadays to see Chinese workers at hawker centres, for example.

For instance, it was reported in 2011 that a Mr Li Wencheng and wife were given PR status to live and work in Singapore. They were hawkers running a stall to sell fish soup in Tampines:

News of the PRC couple came up because a deranged person had slashed them outside of their rented HDB flat. They were said to have 2 daughters living and studying back in China.

Even though the attacker was later arrested, Li told the media of his plan to move out of the flat as soon as possible.

“We’ve told everyone back in China how good and safe Singapore is – how do we explain to them now about what has happened to us?” he said, apparently questioning the level of public safety in Singapore.

But many Singaporean netizens were not amused and questioned the government on the need to give out PR status to foreign hawkers.

Perhaps Singapore can take a leaf from China’s book and be more stringent in how it assesses those it lets in.