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Foreigners to be faced with a question of identity (4)

By Cui Jia, He Na and Peng Yining (China Daily)

08:15, May 29, 2012

Growing problems

"China has a growing problem with illegal immigrants, and such problems are not usually resolved by governmental dictate. They require support from employers and the authorities at all levels," said Rodolfo de la Garza, a professor specializing in immigration policy at Columbia University in New York.

He said if illegal immigrants are displacing Chinese citizens in the workplace, the authorities may be able to use that fact to influence public opinion. However, if foreigners are valuable to a certain business sector, that sector will lobby against implementing crackdowns. He believes that the recent crackdown is actually aimed at assessing the extent of the problem: how many people have overstayed their visas? who is complaining? and who benefits from their presence? Once the authorities have some answers, they will be able to develop better policy options.

Meanwhile, De la Garza questioned why the issue has become such a hot potato. Some expats believe there is a bigger picture behind the crackdown and say the government is responding to the case of a British man who allegedly sexually assaulted a Chinese woman in public in Beijing. Moreover, Oleg Vedernikov, a Russian cellist with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, was filmed while apparently verbally assaulting a woman on a train. However, the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau insisted that the crackdown has nothing to do with these incidents.

Yang Rui, an anchor on the English-language channel of Central China Television, showed his support for the crackdown on his Weibo account. Yang wrote that it is necessary to take out the "foreign trash", whom he labeled traffickers, spies or people without jobs. Many foreigners were outraged by Yang’s comments, called for a boycott of his show and demanded he be fired for discriminating against foreigners.

Yang later apologized and told the UK's Guardian newspaper: "My wording was very strong and incompatible with my image as host of a professional talk show, and I can say for sure I am sorry for hurting those who respect my profession."

Yang turned down China Daily's request for an interview, saying he'd rather remain silent at the moment.

Following Yang's Weibo post, the expat community has been abuzz with rumors of an increasing number of attacks, both verbal and physical, against foreigners, but Beijing police denied that there has been an upsurge in such cases.

"Obviously, more foreigners will arrive in the years to come, because of China's economic development and the increasing number of business and cultural exchanges. Also more foreigners will come to seek business opportunities and work as their home economies deteriorate," said Xu Guangjian, deputy director of the School of Public Administration and Policy at Renmin University of China in Beijing. "However, as more foreigners arrive, the problems concerning their presence will also gradually appear."

China has very clear rules governing the influx of overseas students in the country, but hasn't the same level of expertise when it comes to those who come here for work. It is still a weak link in the management chain, he said.

Xu added that with the increasing numbers of foreigners, Beijing and other cities will need to establish transparent and updated regulations, under which the rights of both foreigners and Chinese can be better protected.

"We need to admit that the majority of foreigners in China are good people and that those who misbehave only account for a small proportion. We should use other countries' experience of immigration as a guide, and draw up new rules on the presence of foreigners. Meanwhile, we should also establish a long-term inspection mechanism and not resort to campaign such as this," said Xu.

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