Beijing - Nearly 600,000 foreigners were living on the Chinese mainland at the end of 2010, results from the sixth national census released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Friday showed.
It is the first time the country has included foreigners who would stay on the mainland for at least three months in its once-in-a-decade population census, as "they've been playing an increasingly important role for the nation's social and economic development", said Zhai Zhenwu, dean of Renmin University's school of sociology and population.
According to the census, the top three home countries of the foreigners on the mainland were the Republic of Korea (ROK), the United States and Japan.
Among them, 56.62 percent, or 336,245, were males and 43.38 percent, or 257,587, were females, it showed. Business and study are major reasons bringing them here.
"The census results would help decision-makers with evidence and guidance when it comes to form new policies better serving foreigners' stay, employment and migration on the mainland," Zhai noted.
Previously, Xinhua reported that Chinese government officials and academics had started planning the country's first draft immigration law to better manage the increasing number of immigrants.
Zhang Weimin, NBS deputy director, thanked the public, particularly the foreigners, for their cooperation during the census.
He told China Daily that those living illegally in China would not face repatriation based on the census information.
Foreigner communities began to form in major economic boomtowns here, like the black community in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong province, according to Zhai.
The census collected the names, ages, gender, nationality, education, purpose and duration of stay of foreigners.
Howie Lam, a 32-year-old US-born Chinese who has been in China for four years for business, said: "As a foreigner in Shanghai, I think there are obviously many privileges that we don't have but the locals do. For example, the property-buying limit (only one allowed for a foreigner) or getting a monthly cell phone plan (you must have local ID to get a monthly cell phone plan)."
"Also, from what I know, visas can be pretty troublesome for some foreigners. It's been okay for me as I have a normal job here, but for others that may not have stable jobs, it may be problematic," he said.
Australian Chris Griffin, a 34-year-old executive chef of White Lotus Catering and Events, who has been in China for five years, recalled his experience with the census.
"A lady came to my apartment and tried to ask me a few questions. My wife, who is Chinese, helped to do the translation for me when the lady asked a few general questions like the length of my stay in China, my age, my name and so on in Chinese," he said.
"I suggest that the government should educate us foreigners as to what social welfare we're entitled and what benefit we qualify for," he noted, adding that the current visa application requirements are too strict.
Yu Ran contributed to this story.