Visa change would affect workers abroad, journalists and students as China follows US with tighter rules
Staff and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 27 December 2011 21.57 GMT
Chinese legislators are considering new visa rules that would introduce fingerprinting of foreigners wanting to work or study in China, according to the official China Daily newspaper.
The draft law on entry and exit procedures, for the first time, allows the ministry of public security and the ministry of foreign affairs to put in place a system to gather biological identification data, such as fingerprints, on foreign visitors, the paper said.
Yang Huanming, vice-minister of public security, told a bimonthly session of lawmakers discussing the legal changes that fingerprints and other biometric information were “effective measures” to speed up arrivals and departures at immigration and customs.
The new rules would apply to foreigners seeking residence visas, which cover stays of six months or longer. They would affect business people, foreign journalists and many students. Universities operate two six-month semesters a year so all foreign students, except those on short language courses, would be finger-printed, if the new rules are passed.
China’s National People’s Congress meets annually in March to approve legislation. Laws are amended during the drafting stage but it is unheard of for the NPC to reject legislation.
The legal changes could aid Chinese workers in foreign companies by deterring foreign bosses from fleeing abroad without paying wages, according to Peking University labour law expert Ye Jingyi. The problem has become commonplace since the global financial crisis, especially in coastal export zones like Guangdong and Shandong, she told China Daily.
“Such a regulation would be a warning to foreign employers that their freedom to leave the country would be restricted if they did not pay workers on time,” Ye said, adding: “It’s also good news for workers because the rule could help prevent foreign bosses from maliciously delaying wages.”
The draft is part of a rethink integrating currently separate rules on identification for foreigners and Chinese citizens that aims to “facilitate exchanges while making sure that those who should not enter are kept out”, said Yang.
The US routinely fingerprints foreign visitors as part of the visa application process, part of tighter controls introduced after the 9/11 attacks. Britain has also introduced biometric passports, using facial recognition technology, that reduce waiting time in airports. China Daily pointed to Norway, South Korea and Switzerland as examples of countries that encode fingerprints in passports.