China is Again Cracking Down on Foreigners

China visas

Every so often, and for various reasons, the Chinese government mounts a crackdown on foreigners in China without the proper visa. The last really really big such crackdown was right before the Olympics. Things had been pretty quiet since then, with just a few minor crackdowns which were mostly confined to one or two cities.

I sense we are in for another crackdown and I think one only needs to read or watch the news to be able to guess why this one is happening. I sense it because in the last two weeks I have gotten desperate calls from two people with illegal businesses in China who have been denied entry into China and I had not received one of those calls for what seems like a year.

One of those people had a visa and was denied entry and given the explanation that he had come “too many times too quickly.” The other was simply denied a visa, after having received visas for nearly ten years. I always feel bad telling these people there is nothing my firm can do to assist them, beyond maybe forming a WFOE or a Rep Office that will then hire them as an employee and allow them to get a Z visa. But since they want to get into China now, this idea never gets much traction.

The New York Times, in a very short piece, China:Crackdown on Foreigners, reports this going on in Guangdong:

Guangdong Province in southern China is tightening rules on foreigners living and working in the province as part of what it calls a clampdown on “illegal immigration,” according to the official China Daily. A new regulation that takes effect on May 1 asks people to report “malpractice” involving foreigners, including overstaying visas, illegal entry and working without permits.

What are you seeing/hearing out there?

24 responses to “China is Again Cracking Down on Foreigners”

  1. Dan–in my experience in Guangdong, these crackdowns usually target actual illegal immigrants, of which Guangdong has many. There is also quite a bit of narcotics trafficking and other smuggling here and foreign national are definitely involved. As a foreign resident of Guangzhou that follows the rules, I welcome a crackdown on some of the more unsavory people here. Let’s just hope the Guangzhou authorities proceed in a slightly less aggressive manner than they have in the past–previous crackdowns have resulted in injuries and even a few deaths among the city’s African population.

  2. China is nothing like the US, in virtually any sense. Laws mean nothing here, and are interpreted and enforced solely upon the whims of the ruling Party, for their own purposes. I genuinely do not recommend going into business here.

  3. What country where they from? (high risk countries?)
    Was it entering many times in a short time on single-entry visas? Can’t see how they can deny entry for holders of multiples.

  4. There is crackdowns (usually associated with a short term issue such as Olympics) and then there is the slow tightening of the noose. Crackdowns flush out the obvious problems, but what has changed in past 5 years is that if you are not in China for reasons permitted by the true wording and spirit of the regulations, it’s getting more difficult. Obvious examples include the massively increased costs to convert from the travel visa people may arrive on the the longer visas you can get, the costs of extensions have also gone up. In the end the system remains unpredictable, application differs from province to province, and no doubt everyone who has a a friend who overstayed by a month and walked away with nothing more than a shrug. But as with most things in China it is necessary to look not just the rules but also the way the wind is blowing, erring on the side of extreme caution for anyone with serious long term aims to be in the country for a sustained period has to be the preferred course.

  5. NY Times always have these half-baked story anyways about China. They usually tell you half of a story.

  6. This is happening throughout China and it was really stepped up right after things started happening in the Middle East. In our nice office building in Shanghai that is filled with foreign companies the police came by last week and checked the papers of everyone in the building, so you cannot act as though this is just happening to people from Africa or wherever. I have always had the sense that the government lets us stay here, but reluctantly and that if they have any good reason for booting us out they will use it, especially now. A friend of mine was caught at his apartment for having overstayed his visa and they sent him home and told him not to come back for at least a year. Not sure if they will really track it or not, but I don’t think he is going to test it out either. As the person above said, if you want to be here long term, you had better get a long term work visa or you are at real risk.

  7. XD makes a good point. “Slow tightening of the noose” may be a little bit morbid in terms of imagery, but I always had a feeling that the days of loosely enforced immigration laws in China were numbered. When I lived there, I knew many, many expats who treated visas as a silly technicality. That was four years ago, and since then, China has gone from interesting, if quirky, emerging market to inevitable heir to the throne of global dominance and center of the global economy, at least in terms of perception. In 2006, there were still a lot of people who didn’t really care. Now, suddenly, everybody wants a piece and far more people are trying to get either their money or themselves into the action by hook or by crook. Perhaps “crackdown” isn’t really the best way to see it. “New normal” might be better…

  8. Thank God you live in Seattle Dan otherwise we probably wouldn’t be able to read even your comments these days. China’s treatment towards those who are there sucks big time.

  9. I highly suggest you read some of the history books of china in the 12th-19th century and glean how china treat diplomats and foreign visitors.
    remember the time where foreign visitors have to kow-tow (on their knees) in front of gov’t officials and the emperors and offending the host ususally means death for the foreigner…
    I would be weary and very cautious for those in China as China grew in strength economicly, politically and militaristicly…
    I begin to hear that China begin to claim the ENTIRE SOUTH CHINA SEA AS CHINESE terriorital waters and ANY ISLAND WITHIN as CHINESE TERRIORITY

  10. Having now clocked up more than 30 years coming and going from China, from the days of being a student, covering the Gang of Four Trial or just hanging out, I am still puzzled about the incredible ignorance of so many foreigners who live in China as evident in some of the response posts (Nulle is a wonder … don’t know that a few more books would help!). One of the best was about 20 years ago when the American boss of an expat I knew running the firm’s Shanghai office sent him a message something like “while I’m there, can you hire a car and we will drive to Shenzhen to have a look at the factory”. That is probably not such an outrageous idea now, but given the state of the highways at the start of the 1990s it was unbelievable. Of course China will crack down on overstayers and why not? Some of us who worked illegally in HK in the late 70s used the multiple trips to Macau or Taiwan (carry a bit of gold for extra money) or the Philippines to extend our stays, but eventually we had to regularise our right to land and remain. As for China today, being legal seems the only sensible thing to do if one is running a legitimate business in China rather than an illegal or fly-by-night operation.

  11. @ Stephen,
    the last 30 years of China is just another wrinkle in the evolution of china…oh, btw, can’t judge the person by the comments made. I don’t drink the same kool-aid you are drinking in the mainland..at least
    when foreigner in china wins a contest, they simply cut him out of the episode. when a bi-racial girl in china wins a contest, netizens and people on the street jeered, question, and critize her mother for being a traitor.
    I have a bigger problem with how china enforces/interpret their laws (including immigration) if and when it suits them (or their interests). They have laws on the books for various things (right to protest, right of the press) and selectively enforce the laws (and often inconsistently) They could simply deny you entry or revoke your work visa if what you worked on doesn’t agree with their interests/viewpoints.
    let’s put it this way: those who are rich or powerful enough could get away with (literally) anything, whehther it is during the Qing Dynasty or today’s with the CCP.

  12. I’ve never lived anywhere illegally, but I did have a friend who was convinced that he was “OK” running a business whilst staying in Shanghai on a student visa that he paid an agency in Qingdao to get him. I always loved to scare him by pointing out that any cop who actually bothered to check him out would see that:
    1) He lived in Shanghai, not Qingdao.
    2) He was not a student, and did not even know where the school he was supposedly registered as studying at.
    3) He was working in China on a student visa
    4) Just because he had paid an agency to do this for him did not mean he was OK. Like someone once said: “how can you get a permit to do a damned illegal thing?”
    However he, and many others like him, worked for years in China without ever running foul of the law. That’s not to say that things will be so easy in future though.

  13. As Dan has been saying over and over and over, if you don’t break the law in China, you have little to worry about. Not sure why so many foreigners think they deserve to bend the rules on visas/immigration without penalty.

  14. Richard, the trouble is foreigners, especially those of the “Western” variety, have been allowed to get away with so much for so long that some of them have come to see it as their right to flout certain laws, rules and regulations, and some persist in that view despite years of increasing evidence that the situation is changing.

  15. Do not worry if you are all legal…the pass/deny rate should be as normal.
    I think this action is against the people from africa…too many illegal africans stay GuangZhou city without anything. And about you guys are sometimes caught…I think that’s the by-product…?

  16. A friend told me that he wanted to get his tourist visa extended – and he really was a tourist, combining language study at a private institute with trips along the coast – the govt. demanded he show $3000 (US) in a Chinese bank account. While at the visa office, he ran into others facing the same situation.

  17. I have been going back and forth to China on business for the last four years without a problem. This week I was denied entry and no reason was given. Something has changed in China and it isn’t me.

  18. I’ve had work visas in China for the past 15 years, pay income tax etc. Generally I do my own visas (takes a morning) because agents add no value. No problem with my most recent renewals…
    The lesson here is that China is behaving more like a developed country (the USA, EU, Australia) and insisting that non-citizens follow migration laws. Those are reasonably consistently applied.
    For those wanting to work on tourist / family / student visas, expect arrest and detention as you would if you did the same thing in the USA, UK etc. No surprises there.

  19. I think China has the right to become strict on their immigration laws, because a lot of illegal and crimes were happening in China done by foreigners.

  20. well given the amount of terrorism caused by white foreigners in China, whether it’s the wenzhou train crash, sars, or xin jiang stabbings, i’d say they arent cracking down hard enough.

  21. It seems that the law and policies of China for aliens and immigrants are not standard.. although they have an existing one. I’d been to Shanghai wherein it’s too easy to get a working visa by applying to schools and some trading companies.
    Yes they do have crackdowns from time to time and in different places, with different level of punishment and rate of penalties. Take for example in Qingdao, when an alien is caught overstaying for more than 10 days, irregardless of nationality; that person will be detained for 30 days even if he/she already paid the penalty. if the detained illegal alien already served the 30-day detention and can’t provide the airfare, it would mean longer stay in prison..which is a gruesome experience. My friend (ESL teacher in a public school) was detained for 30 days, without changing his clothes and taking a bath. When he was released, he was sent directly to the airport.
    If caught with a valid visa but not of valid use, e.g. business visa but working. It would mean penalty and depending on the mood of the police if the alien will be sent to jail .Eventually he/she will be sent to his place of origin.
    Shanghai, I think is far more lenient compared to other cities. Immigration police are more humane (civilized), the opposite of course is barbaric. If caught overstaying, it would mean 10 days detention, sometimes the penalty could be negotiated. After release, the alien will still be allowed to stay for 10 more days.
    Worst come to worst that an alien is caught on violation of immigration law (overstaying and invalid/illegal visa) which is not a crime but violation, try to be submissive and stick to your disclosure (be consistent).. don’t try to fool them or make excuses about your violation.. or you will be hit.
    Better to choose a work in China with valid visa even if the salary is not too high, than to work with salary but no security of a valid visa.

  22. Does anyone know how the conditions are in the Shanghai detention center for visa violation? I heard they are not bad.

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