A work permit system is tied with immigration policy, industrial and social needs as well as the education system of a country. While China has recognized the need to develop a new work permit system with clear categorization and value points for foreign workers, the government must be cognizant of the changing and reforming nature of industries, societies and education systems from K-12 to tertiary schools. This article presents a glimpse of China’s new work permit system and provides some relevant comments.
A recent news appeared in international news media about the subject title has caught people's attention. Naturally, foreigners working in China or having interest in working in China are very much alerted by this news. In my recent travel through China and Southeast Asia, I not only had opportunity reading and hearing this news piece, but I also had occasions talking to some people including taxi drivers, students, business people and foreigners who are currently working in China. Yes, there is definitely some anxiety for some people who very much like to work in China for various reasons such as love of China's culture, the country’s social fiber, people’s spirit, the language, etc. In this column, I would like to present the facts (as far as I have learned about the new work permit system) and some relevant comments (based on deductions) of interest to anyone who may be interested in this topic.
China will rank foreign workers in A, B and C, starting Nov. 1st, this year, in nine cities and provinces, including Beijing and Shanghai, then nationwide on April 1st (Be aware, CCP does not honor April fools). It is said according to official sources that the new work permit system is to better serve the overseas talents to work in China, presumably designed to be beneficial to China and the foreign workers. The new system aims to support the nation's drive to promote her economy through technology innovation; hence it will be encouraging the top, regulating the middle and limiting the bottom category of workers to be classified by A,B and C. The official intent is clear and we will discuss more specifics below, however, the implementation details will not be very clear perhaps till next year.
The current work permit system consists of two types of permit for foreign employees. One employment license is issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the other issued by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA). The present system does not provide a clear guideline for a foreign specialist; say from IBM, to apply which work permit from which government channel. The new system will consolidate all applications under SAFEA. Consolidating the bureaucracy is a good thing; however, the integration of the evaluation, approval, data digitization and administration steps probably will take time to develop in order to produce a consistent process nationwide based on the point system described below.
According to China's most recent official census in 2010, about 200,000 foreigners worked legally in China and perhaps with additional 400,000 were dependents. However, an unofficial estimate quoted by a consultant in HR service business today placed the figure of foreign workers at two million with more than 300,000 working illegally, mostly on tourist visa. As the US illegal immigration issue being high on her presidential election debate list, it is no surprise that the Chinese government is looking ahead to avoid an explosive illegal immigration problem and wants to tighten the control of foreign employees both from economic development point of view and from national security concern. China's minority populations are mostly in the north and the west bordering less developed nations, for example, Inner Mongolia bordering the independent Outer Mongolia presenting a special situation very different from foreign workers say coming from the Western countries or Japan, Korea, Vietnam, India, Singapore or Africa. One may point out that the foreign work permit and immigration policy towards Mongolian deserves special attention from the government, perhaps requiring exceptional rules deviated from the general point system, simply because an ‘affirmative action’ type of work/immigration policy will be helpful for Mongolian integration in China.
With China moving towards an internal consumption driven, industry upgrading and innovation stimulated economy, the country needs more talented foreign workers, in state owned enterprises, private companies and foreign corporations operating in China. The new system naturally will streamline the administrative process of foreign work permit application, but it does cause concern among some current foreign workers. For example, an American high school teacher teaching English in a Chinese elementary school is wondering how will teachers be categorized and what kind of scoring system will be used in categorizing teachers into A,B or C work permit?
On this teacher's concern, I can offer some relevant comments. It is not the color of the skin or hair or surname or birthplace that is critical in teaching English to Chinese children, it is the other elements, such as cultural background, parenting experience, educational level, teaching methods, of course, plus the fluency and good pronunciation of English that determine a good English teacher (especially to kids). As an example, I would rate an oversea Chinese, Mr. Wang, retired at age of 65 lived and worked forty years in the United States with confidence and desire to teach English in China higher than Mr. Smith, a 25 year old native born American or Britton or Ausie. Sadly, the current value system in China would pay a 25 year old Mr. Smith double the salary than a 65 year old Mr. Wang even Mr. Wang speaks just fluently, having a PhD with more knowledge in history, science, and Chinese culture than Mr. Smith. The sad value system is obviously a result of public perception. The government’s point system must consider the above situation to correct the public perception in order to benefit Chinese children on learning foreign languages. In my opinion, Mr. Smith is better qualified to teach millions of Chinese English teachers who needs to improve or correct their English pronunciation.
In a publication by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in China's Organization Personnel Newspaper, some clarifications of the classification system are given as follows:
A point system will be used to classify work permit (jobs) according to salary, education level, special skills, Chinese language skills, age, etc into three categories: 1. Class A, top professional, innovative and creative talent with 85 points or more; 2. Class B, professionals needed in China's economic development plans, short-term gap fulfillment, including management and technical skills with 60 points or more; and 3. Class C, unskilled and service workers with less than 60 points. There will be limits in class B in international trade, sports, culture and education areas and Class C will be strictly limited. The above point system is what I know so far; I am sure more details will be available nearing its implementation.
Logically, a point system is perhaps necessary for administering the millions of foreign workers in China, but the implementation must contain thorough considerations including examples cited above (foreign language teachers and workers with ethnic background same as Chinese minorities). Hopefully, the SAFEA organization bestowed with the work permit responsibility, will keep an open mind to fine tune the system to work for China's needs in tabbing into foreign talents like the U.S. has been benefitted from the talented foreign workers for many decades and not burdened by illegal immigrants. The key is the Chinese government must design a flexible work/immigration policy not only according to China’s industrial and social needs but also must respond to and to some degree dictate China’s reforming education system, where foreign workers are both needed (more in K-12 schools) and produced (more in tertiary schools).