Shared archive on foreigners

Updated: 2012-04-24 12:18

By Zhao Yinan (

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China is likely to introduce a nationwide system to archive information about foreigners in the country, according to a draft law proposed to lawmakers on Tuesday.

The suggestion, if put into practice, will replace current scattered records set up by different administrations to which access is limited to one government agency. Experts said the change would effectively crack down on people who overstayed their visas or worked illegally.

The draft on regulating arrivals and departures from China was tabled before the National People’s Congress Standing Committee for a second reading. It was put before the top legislature in a first draft in December to allow the government to gather and store biometric data on foreign visitors "whenever they deem it necessary", expanding the government's right to collect such data.

To improve the service and management of foreigners in China requires cooperation and precise allocation of responsibilities among government bodies, Zhang Bailin, deputy director of the Law Commission of the NPC, explained to legislators during their bimonthly session, which opened on Tuesday.

China has seen a rocketing number of foreign visitors since opening up in the late 1970s. There were 260 million arrivals and departures in China from January to September in 2011, the ministries of public security and foreign affairs said. In 1980 the figure was only 12.1 million.

Beijing, second to Shanghai in the country in terms of foreigners staying with a residency permit, was home to nearly 120,000 foreigners by the end of 2011.

Current regulations on the arrival and departure of foreigners hold that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for issuing visas, while public security officers and police are tasked with verifying their documents and carrying out routine examination at entry ports.

Once foreigners have entered China, information about them will be archived according to their purpose of visit. For instance, records of overseas students are kept with the Ministry of Education, and that of foreign employees are kept with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs or other related agencies.

Liu Guofu, an expert on immigration law, said the ambiguous division of responsibilities among government agencies makes it difficult to crack down on illegal employment and overstaying.

Liu, from the Beijing Institute of Technology, said, for example, the human resources administration is unlikely to learn if an overseas graduate takes up employment unless the foreigner applies for a working permit or the employer take the initiative to file the hiring.

Kevin, an overseas student from the University of International Business and Economics, who declined to provide his full name, admitted he sometimes feel "unsure" about whether working part-time with a student visa would be illegal or not, but he does so.

"Investigating illegal staying and employment heavily relies on public tip-offs," said Zhao Yu, a professor of foreign public security.

Zhao, with the Chinese People's Public Security University, said that on most occasions people usually don't report overstaying and illegal employment in their neighborhood unless it has infringed upon their rights.

Beijing's Public Security Bureau's arrival and departure department has reported a total of 13,000 cases of illegal entry, staying and employment since 2008, noting there are many overseas students in the city staying illegally with a tourist visa or with an expired one.