Guangdong's new regulation to tighten up rules on foreigners living and working there as it tries to crack down on illegal immigration could mean more harassment of foreigners and restrictions on their freedoms.
A provincial regulation, which takes effect on May 1, encourages people to report malpractice involving foreigners such as illegal entry, overstaying, working without permits or doing business without licences, local media reported yesterday.
The six-chapter, 67-article regulation - the first of its kind on the administration of foreigners on the mainland - stipulates that no one is allowed to provide accommodation, jobs, bank accounts, receipts, operating licences or commercial transport to foreigners who have overstayed or do not have valid passports.
Those who breach the rule will be fined three times the amount of the monthly rent they charge or a fine of up to 10,000 yuan (HK$11,860).
The regulation comes as a growing number of foreigners move to the booming province seeking employment and trade opportunities, according to local media.
But the regulation could result in harassment of foreigners, said Professor Adams Bodomo, of the University of Hong Kong's humanities department. 'They are turning almost every Guangzhou Chinese citizen or resident - including hotel staff, landlords, employers and neighbours - into immigration officers to enforce rather unfair and unclear immigration rules,' Bodomo said.
'There is virtually no clear path to residency and citizenship as you have in global cities like New York, Hong Kong and London. Guangzhou can never dream of being a global city until a modern-day civilised, humane, reasonable immigration policy is in place.'
Bodomo, who conducted extensive research on African communities in Guangzhou and other trade cities on the mainland, said Africans often complained that they suffered more than most foreigners in China. They find it hard to get residency permits valid for more than six months and have to constantly leave the mainland and return to renew their visas, he said. 'This makes the whole process very unfair, unclear, inhumane and expensive. So, sometimes, some people don't bother to go through all this and soon find themselves overstaying,' he said.
'[The regulation] would lead to more ID checks, and the police would just barge into the many ethnic restaurants and bars where Africans relax to harass them. The law in itself is not a bad one, but the implementation has to be done in such a way that it doesn't discriminate against Africans, who are already facing a lot of harassment in Guangzhou.'
There are about 63,000 permanent foreign residents in Guangdong from 85 countries. About four million foreigners visit the province every year.
A Briton, who declined to be named and has worked with international businesses in Guangzhou for 10 years, said he understood the government wanted to flush out undesirable law breakers, but to do so could create a climate of distrust in the local community if the regulation was not properly implemented.
'For foreigners to feel that they are monitored by society as a whole is a pretty nasty feeling,' he said.
The provincial Public Security Bureau did not return phone calls seeking comment.