China's Investor Visa Program
by Andrew Lillis, Lehman, Lee & Xu, China
China, traditionally a country of emigration, not immigration unveiled a form of permanent residency for several categories of foreigners in 2004. One of the available categories is foreign investors. The program entitles investors to 5 year “green” card residency permits. This is akin to permanent residency as renewal of the card is expected to be a routine procedure.
The regulations on the scheme are vague, the uptake low and the program has not been advertised in the way one would expect such a program to be. Nevertheless if the appropriate conditions are met an investor can still apply in the city in which they are resident for the permit that gives the holder rights equal to those of Chinese citizens in virtually every area, yet still retain the privileges afforded to foreigners.
Under current regulations the amount invested should not be less than $500,000 where the investment is in China’s Western regions, not less than $1,000,000 where the investment is in China’s Central region and not less than $2,000,000 if located in China’s coastal regions. Investment of any of these amounts do not grant the investor the automatic right to the relevant green card as several factors are considered when the investor applies at the municipal public security bureau for approval. The system in China is administered locally in each province, municipality and autonomous region (excluding Macau and Hong Kong which are governed under separate legal systems and therefore not included in the program) however final approval is granted by the Ministry for Public Security in Beijing; a branch of the central government.
The investor is entitled to apply for “green cards” for a dependant spouse and children under the age of 18. The child however loses the right to renew the permit once reaching the age of 18.
Unlike some programs there is no “finder’s fee” for companies who bring in investors as the fundamental basis of the program is different to that in most countries. In China it can be seen as a reward for those who have demonstrated a solid commitment to China’s success so much as a scheme to attract new investors.
The holder of a “green card” enjoys the following advantages: freedom to purchase residential property for self use, educational benefits for dependent children, the right to seek Chinese professional qualifications, the right to state social security benefits, the right to apply for a driver’s license using the same process as that of Chinese citizens and the right to work without the need for an employment permit.
In the first year of the scheme only 600 “green cards” were issued to foreigners in China; this includes those who applied for the green card through marriage to a Chinese national, making the actual number granted to investors difficult to glean. The number is almost certainly below the 100 mark though, a tiny fraction of the foreigners who have invested in China and a drop in the ocean for a country of over 1.3 billion people. Nevertheless as China continues to open up we can expect to see an easing the regulations, perhaps eventually settling on the same “seven years of residence” rule currently in place in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. For the time being however investors looking to migrate to a foreign country will find China one of the most difficult countries from an investor migration perspective.