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Evolving attitudes to foreigners

By Lin Meilian (Global Times)

08:52, June 25, 2012

Four years ago, Beijing sang "Beijing Welcomes You" for the 100-day countdown to the 2008 Olympic Games, but now the city has added an "if" during the 100-day crackdown on illegal foreigners. Beijing welcomes you if you are not an illegal immigrant, have not overstayed your visa or are working with the right visa.

Having been living in Beijing for eight years, Philip from the US thinks the city is sending out a confusing message: Beijing welcomes you, question mark.

"I always felt at home in Beijing, but now I am not so sure," said the marketing professional. He recalled that some of his friends were kicked out during a similar crackdown before the Games in 2008.

Mooted database of illegal aliens

Since Beijing kicked off the campaign to "clean out" non-Chinese living or working illegally in the city in the middle of May, many foreigners have found themselves greeting police at their doors, at bars or on the street. Some were taken by police to their homes on the spot to check their necessary documents. Others were stuck in Mongolia after failing to renew their visas.

It is the first time that Beijing has openly targeted illegal aliens. The crackdown soon spread to other cities in China.

Apparently, China is quickly becoming a new destination for illegal immigrants. Most of them have been attracted by a booming economy and a relatively relaxed visa policy until now. The number of foreigners visiting China has increased from 740,000 in 1980 to 27 million in 2011.

Experts believe that learning how to handle the increasing flow of immigration is just a baby step for a growing international city.

"When you open your door to the world, you don't know what you are going to get," Liu Guofu, a professor and immigration law expert with the Beijing Institute of Technology, told the Global Times. "But instead of closing the door and keeping all the foreigners out, China should learn how to deal with them effectively to attract and retain foreign talents."

He said it is difficult for China to deal with this situation due to its lack of experience in the field.

"A database of illegal immigrants should be set up during this nationwide crackdown, it would be an invaluable resource in the future," he advised.

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