Granting green cards to rich expats in Shanghai is classism

By Christopher Cottrell Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-2 18:33:01

"Expense account expats are so removed from reality," the Global Times wrote in yesterday's TwoCents, titled "Expats in Shanghai are China's real spoiled children." I'm a foreigner in Shanghai yet I couldn't agree more with the author, who calls my fellow compatriots here the "pampered class."

The article cites Shanghai's numerous initiatives for foreign professionals as "more akin to babysitting and hand-holding." Indeed, not but two days ago, on July 1, authorities announced that foreigners who have lived in Shanghai for four years will be eligible for permanent residence permits.

As someone who has lived in China for over a decade and is right in the middle of going through a new work visa application, my heart leapt at the news…until I read the kicker: "Only foreigners earning an annual salary of 600,000 yuan and pay more than 120,000 yuan in annual taxes are eligible to apply."

As a teacher, I question why some short-term corporate executive oblivious of Chinese culture is entitled to such a benefit while those of us who actually contribute to the China's social and intellectual growth are left behind? Gauging by the country's desperation to become a global player, which necessitates the need for its populous to speak English, the language of the world, one would imagine that under-paid foreign teachers would be the ones to receive sweeteners to keep us here. But in fact it's the exact opposite.

After a decade of working in Chinese mainland media, I recently decided to "semi-retire" by teaching history, which is what I received my Masters in, at a Chinese high school. I received offers from some Shanghai international schools, but I wanted to give back to the local children rather than the wealthy offspring of Western bankers. The downside to my benevolence, however, means that I am not eligible for any of the "hand-holding" that the Hongqiao and Jinqiao international scene receive.

The visa transfer itself has been a three-month-long nightmare of paperwork, which required numerous release forms from my former employer, along with endless back-and-forth bureaucracy between various government offices and my past and present employers. I was also required at the very last moment to take an online TEFL course, because for some reason an MA in History from the University of Hawaii along with post-graduate teaching experience is not good enough for Shanghai visa authorities.

I am not alone in my commiseration. A dear friend who has lived in China for 30 years and speaks and writes the language fluently was recently invited to teach linguistics by a prestigious Chinese university. He is not an educator by trade, but he also saw the opportunity as a pleasant way to spend his autumn years. The visa process wound up taking him five grueling months, concluding in a blindsiding request by the provincial government for an official FBI background check.

Aside from the fact that an FBI check simply makes absolutely no sense for someone who has lived in China half his life, the ordeal was extremely insulting to him. So rather than submit to any further bureaucratic bullsh*t, he turned down the job offer, packed up and moved to a neighboring country that receives foreigners far more hospitably. China's loss!

It wasn't always like this. When I first arrived in Shanghai in 2003, all I was asked for was a few photocopies and a cough at the doctor's office. But the good ol' days are gone. Shanghai must now take measures to protect itself from an influx of pedophile kindergarten teachers and millennial meth-heads who are being driven out of their own economically-collapsing countries. And I get that. I'm proud to have watched Shanghai develop and mature while weeding out the bad seeds.

But bending over backwards to lure foreign businessmen with entitlements such as green cards - which in turn grants them additional rights to housing and education - while making the visa rules more strict, not less, for the broader segment of the expat populous, is thinly veiled classism.

Meanwhile, I have recently married in to China and, unlike those corporate short-termers, I would genuinely appreciate permanent residence and public schooling for my future China-born children. Yet, just because I don't have an expense account and a hardship package, I am relegated to the fringes of Shanghai society.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai

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