China has kick-started a key process to frame its first immigration law to better manage immigrants as the world's fastest economy seeks to attract more foreigners to boost its development.
Experts on migration have advised the government to learn from other countries in regulating immigration, said Zhang Jijiao, researcher with the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology under the China Academy of Social Sciences.
Zhang said in the era of globalisation, China needed to attract a variety of talents, investors, skilled workers, and in particular 'seagulls' -- a Chinese term for foreign merchants who work with multinationals and must travel across the world -- to contribute to its development.
A sounder migration policy would definitely enhance China's appeal, Zhang said.
The ministry of public security, Beijing Law Society, the Chinese People's Public Security University and the CASS held a liaison meeting last year.
But the discussions had yet to result in any concrete preparations, Zhang told state-run Xinhua news agency at a global forum on migration.
Unlike Western countries, which have special laws to regulate the management of transnational migrants, there were few Chinese legal instruments to regulate immigration and foreign investment.
"This reflects how China's transnational migration management has long been focused on the legitimacy of entry and exit out of economic considerations," said Zhang.
He said in the long run it is not enough 'as migrants also have other demands that need to be addressed, especially relating to ethnic culture and customs, employment and education.'
The first and foremost Western experiences worth noting were the classification of transnational migrants into different categories, such as skilled or unskilled workers, skills migration or investor migration, and then to adopt management rules for each category.
About 2.85 million or more than 10 percent of the 26.11 million foreigners who entered China in 2007 came for employment, according to the Bureau of Exit and Entry Administration of the Ministry of Public Security.
Of the nearly 5.40 lakh foreigners who lived in China for more than six months in 2007, more than half were workers at joint ventures and solely foreign-owned companies or their families.
Although the overall figures have yet to be updated, local statistics have projected a trend of more foreigners staying in China for longer periods, the report said.
The Shanghai government announced last December that foreigners living in this eastern metropolis for more than six months had risen 14.1 per cent year on year to 152,100 in 2008.
In Beijing, the number was 110,000 by 2008 while in southern Guangdong, the spearhead of China's economic reform, the figure was 57,793 in the first half of last year. Guangzhou even has an emerging African community.
Foreign residents will, for the first time, take part in the national census due to begin on November 1, giving experts and policy-makers more solid statistical support for a reform of migration management.
Huang Xing, deputy director of the CASS Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, told the international conference on 'Migration in China and Asia: Experience and Policy' on Thursday that China, which shares borders with many countries, would lead to more and more population mobility.
"China must further adapt to the change from a source of outbound migrants into a recipient of inbound migrants and seize time to optimise its migration legal framework," he said.
Foreign expatriates have gradually increased as the country opened to the outside world and adopted economic reform in late 1970s.
In Beijing, for instance, foreigners were mainly confined to a radius of 20 km around Tiananmen Square until the mid 1980s.
After fully opening to foreign tourists in 1995, Beijing lifted restrictions on foreigners' accommodation in 2003, allowing them to choose dwelling places freely and even to lodge in Chinese homes.
Since the Measures for the Administration of Examination and Approval of Foreigners' Permanent Residence in China took force in 2004, the government has granted permanent residence to foreigners in a dozen provinces and municipalities, including remote Qinghai in the northwest.
In Beijing, 311 foreigners had obtained permanent residence by October 2009.
Global events, such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai World Expo and the booming Chinese economy has added to the growing trend of more and more foreigners looking to China for opportunities.
It has brought home the need to frame an immigration law to better manage immigrants moving to the the country.