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Checks on foreign residents to be tightened

A draft law giving the public security authority power to fingerprint foreigners has been submitted to legislators in Beijing.

The draft proposes to allow the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to gather and store biometric data, such as fingerprints, on foreign visitors, "whenever they deem it necessary".

In addition to allowing changes in the way the authorities manage the arrival and departure to and from the country of foreigners and Chinese citizens, the proposal would allow the public security department to fingerprint foreigners who apply for a residency permit.

Under current rules foreigners are required to apply for a residency permit if they stay for more than a year, or for a temporary one if the stay is shorter. Under the proposed rules foreign visitors would have to apply for a residency certificate within a month of arriving "if their visa requires it".

"Usually only foreign employees and overseas students will live here longer than a year, while those who come for sightseeing or other temporary trips will stay no longer than six months," said Liu Guofu, an immigration law expert with Beijing Institute of Technology.

Yang Huanning, vice-minister of Public Security, told legislators in their bimonthly session that such rules are necessary since illegal entry has been "critical" due to increasing number of foreign visitors and loopholes in the current system.

"To make sure those who should not come are kept out and who should be controlled are under watch, and at the same time to facilitate legal people exchanges," he said.

After the system is in place it is forecast to speed up arrivals and departures.

From January to September there were 260 million arrivals and departures in China, the ministries of public security and foreign affairs said. In 1980 the figure was 12.1 million.

Liu with Beijing Institute of Technology, took part in a meeting held by the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People's Congress Standing Committee to solicit opinions on the law.

"Fingerprinting is not an exclusive policy for foreigners, but equally applies to the Chinese upon their arrival and departure," he said.

Liu said the proposal, drafted on the basis of the current regulation on foreigners' arrival and departure, is a step forward in the country's immigration management.

"It goes beyond the basic need of economic development and law and order, and endeavors to meet higher requirements amid globalization, helping with the world's integration and keeping illegal activities such as terrorism attacks at bay."

Pietro, an Italian student who declined to reveal her full name, and who has lived in China for four years, said she was appalled with the plans.

China's rules on foreigners were becoming "too strict", she said, and the government should not forget that one reason the country was growing so rapidly is that "foreign companies and foreigners live here and contribute to the wealth of the country".

"They may eventually be fed up by the bureaucratic procedures and leave."

Although European countries such as Britain also impose similar strict fingerprint regulations on some foreign citizens, many consider it necessary to help combat illegal immigration, "one that constantly challenges Europe but not China".

Mike Iszatt, director of a British chemical company that has strong business links with China, said he travels all over the world on business and has never had to provide fingerprints before being allowed entry.

A few bad individuals are going to cause hardship for the vast majority, he said.

The legislative proposal stipulates that foreigners suspected of illegal entry, stay and employment, or those suspected of endangering state security or social order, can be detained for investigation for a maximum of 60 days, if the case is "complicated".

Web link: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/usa/weekly/2011-12/30/content_14354894.htm

Lehman, Lee & Xu is a top-tier Chinese law firm specializing in corporate, commercial, intellectual property, and labor and employment matters. For further information on any issue discussed in this edition of China Immigration Lawyers Alert or for all other enquiries, please e-mail us at mail@lehmanlaw.com or visit our website at www.lehmanlaw.com.

© Lehman, Lee & Xu 2012.
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