BEIJING - Chinese government officials and academics have started planning the country's first draft immigration law to better manage the increasing number of immigrants.
Experts on migration were advising the government to learn from experience abroad in regulating immigration, Zhang Jijiao, researcher with the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology under the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), told Xinhua.
A liaison meeting was held last year, with the participants from the Ministry of Public Security, the Beijing Law Society, the Chinese People's Public Security University and the CASS, said Zhang.
But the discussions had yet to result in any concrete preparations, Zhang told Xinhua at a global forum on migration Friday.
Unlike Western countries, which have special laws to regulate the management of transnational migrants, regulations only sporadically appeared in Chinese legal instruments concerning entry and exit administration and the use and invitation of foreign investment.
"This reflects how China's transnational migration management has long been focused on the legitimacy of entry and exit out of economic considerations," said Zhang.
"In the long run, however, it is far from enough as migrants into the country also have other demands that need to be addressed, especially relating to ethnic culture and customs, employment and education."
The first and foremost Western experiences worth noting were the classification of transnational migrants into different categories, such as skilled or unskilled workers, skills migration or investor migration, and then to adopt management rules for each category.
"Judging from the history of Western developed countries, inward migration flows often reveal the appeal of a nation. But to have a stronger appeal and competitiveness on the global arena, a nation must properly resolve social and economic issues arising from immigration."
In the era of globalization, China needed to attract a variety of talents, investors, skilled workers, and in particular "seagulls" -- a Chinese term for foreign merchants who work with multinationals and must travel across the world -- to contribute to its development. A sounder migration policy would definitely enhance China's appeal, Zhang said.
According to the Bureau of Exit and Entry Administration of the Ministry of Public Security, about 2.85 million or more than 10 percent of the 26.11 million foreigners who entered China in 2007 came for employment.
That year, of the 538,892 foreigners who lived in China for more than six months, more than half were workers at joint ventures and solely foreign-owned companies or their families.
Although the overall figures have yet to be updated, local statistics have projected a trend of more foreigners staying in China for longer periods.
The Shanghai government announced in last December that foreigners living in this eastern metropolis for more than six months had risen 14.1 percent year on year to 152,100 in 2008.
In Beijing, the number was 110,000 by 2008 while in southern Guangdong, the spearhead of China's economic reform, the figure was 57,793 in the first half of last year. Guangzhou even has an emerging African community.
Foreign residents will, for the first time, take part in the national census due to begin on November 1, giving experts and policy-makers more solid statistical support for a reform of migration management.
Huang Xing, deputy director of the CASS Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, told the international conference on "Migration in China and Asia: Experience and Policy" on Thursday that China, with borders on so many countries, would see increasingly active population mobility.
"China must further adapt to the change from a source of outbound migrants into a recipient of inbound migrants and seize time to optimize its migration legal framework," he said.
As the country opened to the outside world and adopted economic reform in late 1970s, foreign expatriates have gradually gained more freedom.
In Beijing for instance, foreigners were mainly confined to a radius of 20 km around Tian'anmen Square until the mid 1980s.
After fully opening to foreign tourists in 1995, Beijing lifted restrictions on foreigners' accommodation in 2003, allowing them to choose dwelling places freely and even to lodge in Chinese homes.h Since the Measures for the Administration of Examination and Approval of Foreigners' Permanent Residence in China took force in 2004, the central government has granted permanent residence to foreigners in a dozen provinces and municipalities, including remote Qinghai in the northwest. In Beijing, 311 foreigners had obtained permanent residence by October 2009.
Because of global events, such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai World Expo and the booming Chinese economy, many more foreigners are look to China for opportunities.
At the two-day International Metropolis Conference, first of its kind in China and Asia, more than 90 experts from 24 countries and regions have gathered to discuss global migration and policies concerning multi-ethnic societies, identity and social cohesion, skilled and unskilled workers, labor markets and ethnic business, marriage and gender, education and youth migrants.
Professor David W. Haines, of the George Mason University, described China as a "crucial" contributor to a global understanding of migration, not only because of concurrent migration flows into and out of China, but also because of the unique internal migration, which restricted by the household registration system.
As Chinese policy-makers had pegged household registration to residents' social benefits, medical care and education services, internal migration in China has been viewed as more complex and difficult than that in Western countries.
Haines pointed out similarities between China's internal migration and the transnational migration in North America and Europe, and panel discussion moderator Zhang Jijiao hoped Chinese researchers could look into the similarities and identify useful experiences to optimize policies for the internal migration dominated by rural migrant workers.
"Global migration management philosophy, as I understand, has shifted from assimilation in the 1960s to the respect of differences and the protection of diversity. China, a latecomer in this sphere, has both a lot to be done and a good chance to catch up," said Zhang.