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China urges citizens to report illegal immigrants, tightens rules

July 2, 2012 |  1:38 pm

China urged its citizens to report suspected illegal immigrants as it passed a new law with harsher punishments for foreigners living or working illegally in the country, Xinhua news agency reported. The rules reflect growing concerns about foreign labor, a new issue for China as it has opened to the outside world.

Under a new law passed Saturday, illegal immigrants will get a warning before being fined, but in severe cases, they can be slapped with penalties of about $1,500, detained more than two weeks and ultimately be deported and barred from the country for a decade, the news agency reported. Companies that illegally employ foreigners can be fined about $1,500 for each worker, up to nearly $16,000.

The law also allows the Chinese government to stop foreigners from living or working in certain areas, according to an analysis by immigration attorney Gary Chodorow. Foreign companies or workers who are already established in banned areas could be given deadlines to move. In addition, foreigners seeking residency will have to provide their fingerprints; the same might also be asked of people entering China.

Xinhua reported that the number of foreigners living in China for six months or more has soared thirty-fold over the last 20 years. During much of that time, foreigners have been able to stay at length by repeatedly renewing temporary visas at the border, according to the Associated Press.

Though some foreigners view the new rules as a sign that China is becoming less welcoming to outsiders, Chinese authorities say the law will actually help attract foreign talent through a new type of visa. The new rules, the country's first overhaul of immigration rules for foreigners since 1985, go into effect in a year.

The rules "should not be seen as a knee-jerk reaction to the recent occurrence of several isolated incidents concerning the behavior of foreign visitors, which managed to whip up xenophobic sentiment," according to Stuart Wiggin on China Radio International, who noted that changes had been in the works since the end of last year. Nonetheless, "many will feel that this draft law provides the government with a chance to crack down upon illegal presence in China."

Besides setting stricter rules for foreign workers, the new law brings Chinese rules into line with international agreements on hosting refugees fleeing from other countries. Immigration law expert Liu Guofo told China Daily that the law will give rise to more protections for refugees, who are often treated as illegal foreign residents in China because their documents are incomplete.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

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