After nine years, a marriage and two children, the Portuguese Paulo Quaresma achieved a rare feat in China: he obtained a permanent residence permit, becoming one of the few foreigners to have a Chinese ‘green card’.
“This document allows me to have the same rights as the locals,” explains the Portuguese, 44, a chef in a five-star hotel in Beijing.
China issues only a few hundred green cards per year, especially for foreign investors or highly qualified professionals in key sectors of the country.
By 2017, only 10,000 of the roughly one million foreigners living in the country had obtained that residence permit, which is valid for ten years.
American physicist Joan Hinton, one of the few female scientists who participated in the Manhattan Project, which produced the first atomic bombs, was the first foreigner to receive a permanent residence permit from the Chinese government in 2004.
Hinton lived in the country for over 50 years after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.
The Portuguese embassy in Beijing told not to have registered another Portuguese who obtained the document. Already the Portuguese consulate in Guangzhou, southern China, counted only one case.
With an estimated 1.4 billion people, China is traditionally one of the world’s largest emitters. According to UN data, the total number of Chinese emigrants is around 50 million.
But China’s position in world migration flows has changed as three decades of rapid development have made China the world’s second-largest economy, attracting people from around the world.
The consular data point to more than 1,100 Portuguese residing in mainland China in 2016.
Paulo Quaresma stresses “certain freedom“, since it no longer depends on the work visa, issued through the employer, to remain in China.
“It’s all simpler,” he says. “I do not need to renew the visa every year and even for a company hiring me is no longer a load of jobs,” he notes.
Green card holders have the same rights as Chinese citizens in areas such as education, social security, real estate, business or the labour market.
With more than 20 years of profession, the Portuguese chef arrived in Beijing in 2010 to direct the kitchen of “Camões“, a restaurant opened in a five-star hotel in the centre of Beijing owned by a Macau tycoon.
However, he married a Chinese woman, with whom he had two boys.
Although Chinese authorities prioritize foreign professionals in research centres or high-tech enterprises considered “key” for China’s development, the Lenten process turned out to be faster and simpler than expected.
“It was estimated to last between one and two years, and it lasted six months. They said they would eventually call me for interviews, but no one ever contacted me,” he says.
The program is also open to foreigners married to Chinese nationals for at least five years.
“The ‘green cards’ are meant for very intelligent people,” admits Paulo Quaresma. “And I was clever at having married my wife.“