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Shanghai facilitates expat visa renewals

Wait time to get passports back for residence permits cut to 1 hour


New visa procedures due to take effect on Thursday mean expatriates living in Shanghai will no longer have to forfeit their passports for a week when renewing their residence permits online.
 
Foreigners who have their applications approved online now must leave their passport at one of the offices of the Shanghai Exit-Entry Administration Bureau for seven days. This means they cannot leave the country, travel freely or open a bank account during that period.
 
The amended procedure truncates the waiting time to about an hour, provided the applicant takes all of the required documents to the administration's office in Pudong New Area on the specified date.
 
"This is mostly aimed at foreign executives who need to travel often in China or internationally to do business," said Li Feng, a spokesman for the administration, which operates under the Shanghai Public Security Bureau.
 
"We felt it was unnecessary for foreigners to have to leave their passports for so long at the bureau."
 
He said Shanghai is one of the first cities in China to roll out such a measure, although Hubei province also began accepting visa registrations from expats online in 2012.
 
Jacob Dreyer, of the United States, is an account manager at a design company in Shanghai. He welcomed the news but said the shortened screening time could potentially lead to abuse of the system.
 
"I think it's really great to see how the Chinese government is using technology to use smarter ways for foreigners to comply with visa regulations," he said. "I'm just wondering what the possibilities for abuse of this are, as I know they've been cracking down on visa abuses lately."
 
However, there is still a wait involved as it takes up to a week for the bureau to approve the visa-renewal application and provide a date on which expats can get their passport stamped, according to Li.
 
Other expats complained about the operating speed of the administration's website, which remains slow to respond despite recent efforts to spruce it up. The homepage now vaguely resembles the touchscreen display seen on PCs and tablets running Windows 8.
 
The new visa measure is one of several implemented recently to make life abroad more convenient for those who choose to work in Shanghai.
 
In the middle of November, the administration set up an expat registration office in a residential community in Jing'an district as a friendlier alternative to having them register at a police station. More offices are expected to open across the city in 2014.
 
Two more branch offices handling expats' exit and entry documents were established in October in Minhang and Zhabei districts, taking the total to 10.
 
In August, green card rules were amended for those who wish to reside long-term in China. Among other benefits, holders can now enjoy the full benefits of the country's social security system.
 
Meanwhile, a new set of visa laws targeting foreigners that were introduced on July 1 include heavier punishments for illegal aliens and those who overstay their visas.
 
In addition to having to submit fingerprint and biometric data when applying for visas, foreign workers cannot leave the country if they owe their employers money - an issue that has become a bone of contention among some of the English-teaching community.