China must do more to attract the world’s best and brightest

A revamped “green card” system will help the nation’s bid to be a world leader in science and technology. But to achieve that aim, the requirements must be relaxed further.

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 February, 2017, 12:47am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 February, 2017, 12:47am

China’s bid to climb to the top of the world’s science, technology and innovation ladder cannot be attained through home-grown talent alone. It needs people with skills and know-how, but also inventive and unorthodox thinking. A revamped permanent residency system aims to help attain that goal by attracting and keeping the best and brightest from around the world. With so many governments having the same objective, the competition is fierce.

The best-known model is America’s “green card”, which is given to one million foreigners each year. Recipients have the right to live and work permanently in the US without the need for visas. Amid the crackdown on migration by President Donald Trump, the hi-tech hub of Silicon Valley has been vocal about the role immigration has played in making the US a global tech powerhouse, with migrants or their children having founded companies including Google, Apple, Amazon, eBay, Reddit and Tesla. The nation is a draw for some of the world’s best programmers, managers and creative minds.

While Trump curbs immigration, China’s giving out more green cards … but can it attract more foreigners?

The desire for such people is behind China’s relaxing of the requirements for its equivalent of a green card. Introduced in 2004, only 7,356 foreigners were granted permanent residency in the first 10 years, minuscule for a nation of 1.3 billion people. Rules requiring high levels of income or academic attainment were eased in February last year, leading to 1,576 applications being approved in 2016.

The biggest benefit of residency for foreigners is the time and expense saved of not having to apply for visas; the rights of education, social welfare and housing have less appeal. But if Beijing wants to take on Silicon Valley or attract highly qualified overseas Chinese, it has to further relax requirements. Not only those at the top of their fields of endeavour should be targeted, as innovative people and others with good ideas may not yet have made their mark. But aspiring overseas applicants will also consider the smog, lack of a free media, internet restrictions, disadvantageous taxation rates and the language barrier. They are all matters authorities need to reflect on as the nation moves towards becoming a leader in science and technology.