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CHINA: New Entry and Exit Administration Law & Tightened Immigration Enforcement

China has issued a new Entry and Exit Administration Law and tightened immigration enforcement, while the U.S. is welcoming more visitors from China.

On June 30, 2012, the Chinese National People's Congress' Standing Committee enacted a new Exit-Entry Administration Law, effective July 1, 2013. This is the first major reform of China's immigration law since 1986. The overriding policy behind the law is to create harsher punishments for immigration law violations in China.

One particular issue that the new law aims to tackle is that a growing number of foreigners have managed to live and work in China on short-term business visitor visas and periodically travel to neighboring countries and regions, such as Hong Kong, to renew them. The new law imposes monetary sanctions on employers for every foreigner illegally employed and gives the government authority to confiscate any money earned from such employment. It also subjects foreigners who illegally stay in the country to fines and possible detention. To provide more flexibility, the law reduced the minimum length of work-related residence permits from 180 days to 90 days, which will likely result in qualified employees applying for work permits rather than working on F business visitor visas.  It also creates a "talent introduction" visa category, allowing visas for foreign talent. The details of this visa category will be set by agency regulations.

The law requires foreigners who apply for residence permits to provide their fingerprints and other biometric data to the public security bureau and gives the public security bureau and Ministry of Foreign Affairs the authority to promulgate regulations to collect biometric data from persons crossing the Chinese borders. Foreigners may be found "unsuitable" to stay due to violations of China's laws and regulations. Such foreigners may be given a deadline to voluntarily depart the country. Those who commit "severe violations" may be deported and found inadmissible for 10 years.

In line with China's immigration reform efforts, certain Chinese cities have been cracking down on illegal entries, overstays, and unauthorized employment in China. The Beijing government initiated a "100-day campaign" in May. Pursuant to Chinese immigration law and regulations, foreign nationals must carry their passports and accommodation registration documents at all times. Beijing police have been checking passports and registrations in targeted popular locations for foreign nationals in Beijing, such as Sanlitun and university areas. They have been looking for those who have committed a crime, overstayed their periods of admission, or are working illegally. Beijing authorities have asked the police department to publicize this enforcement effort across the city via public notices and face-to-face communications. A hotline also allows residents to give tips to the police.

Although Shanghai officials denied that the 100-day campaign has spread to Shanghai, a Shanghai expatriate blog, City Weekend, reported on June 1, 2012, that Shanghai police raided two bars popular among foreign residents in the "Yongfu Lu" strip area, checking passports and work permits of foreigners.

Officials in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwest China, have confirmed that a similar campaign will be rolled out there soon.

Overseas, Chinese consulates are becoming increasingly strict in their review and adjudication of visa applications, especially the requirement that all questions on a visa application be answered. All spaces must be filled in, including when the answer is "none" or "N/A." In the section about family members, all applicants must list at least one family member, even if they do not live in the same household.

Regarding Chinese visitors to the U.S., the U.S. Department of State announced in April that it aims to increase visitor visa processing capacity in China by 40 percent in 2012. In the first half of fiscal year 2012, U.S. consulates in China issued more than 453,000 visas, which was a 46 percent increase from the same time period in 2011. The State Department has reduced the waiting time to get a visa appointment in China to an average of five days. To further increase visa processing capacity, the State Department has hired more bilingual consular adjudicators and is exploring the possibility of adding visa issuance services in Wuhan, China.

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