China’s move to expand the powers of its science ministry could lead to increased recruitment of international researchers, experts say, and in a further bid to open its borders to more foreign talent, SAFEA, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security, introduced the R visa in January 2018. Foreign experts whose skills are in high demand can apply for the visa, at no cost, with the promise of quick approval, and up to 10 years allowing multiple entry into the country.

Shanghai Municipality has also recently streamlined the residence permit application-procedures for highly skilled foreign workers, and applicants who have been identified by national or Shanghai authorities will get their permits within three days. Also Beijing authorities have rolled out various incentives to attract foreign talent to the city’s Zhongguancun high-tech business hub, and have since 2016 offered one-stop service to apply for permanent residency.

The 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing, which ended on 20 March 2018, passed legislation strengthening the Ministry of Science and Technology’s (MOST) authority in issuing work permits to foreign experts. The MOST absorbed the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA), previously under the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, and took over the country’s leading basic-research funding agency, the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC). SAFEA’s purview currently includes all foreign experts, excluding business elite, but another newly established entity, the State Immigration Administration, could take over the management of non-scientific experts.

SAFEA, established in 1956, has long been engaged in developing policies to attract foreign talent, as well as managing various state-sponsored programs, such as the Foreign Expert Recruitment Scheme under the Thousand Talents Plan. The plan launched in 2008, and it has attracted more than 7,600 scientists and senior engineers to China, including 3,500 promising young scientists. However, the majority of transfers have been Chinese-born returnees, with only about 390 foreigners. Visa policies have also been a limiting factor. In 2016, China issued only 1,576 green cards, or permanent residencies, to foreigners (not just scientists).

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