By Amodani Gariba
In August 2019, three months before the break out of coronavirus in Wuhan, China had made changes to its immigration policy. The change, which sought to relax immigration rules, ignited huge a huge storm of xenophobic sentiments among the Chinese citizens. Some saw the change to be counterintuitive, given the fact that China imposes birth control on its citizens. However, for many whose dreams have been to live and work in China, this news is welcoming. Nevertheless, in this article, we will discuss how the changes promise nothing new for the average African migrants in China and what African leaders can do about it.
What Is China’s New Immigration Law?
According to the Chinese state-owned CGTN, the new Immigration Exit and Entry rules for foreigners increase the number of permanent residence permits to qualified overseas workers. It adds more long-term visas for top talent, which includes students, workers, and people looking to start businesses in China. The law, which took effect on August 1, 2019, makes it easy for people who make an annual salary of at least $82,000 paid taxes, have held a job in China for more than four consecutive years, and have in-demand skills to apply.
Immigration Trends Of Africans In China
In my previous article, I discussed how coronavirus had reduced the population of African immigrants of Guangzhou by about 70%. Having known of China’s success in fighting the pandemic, these Africans decided to go back to Guangzhou to continue with their lives and business. Subsequent incidents threatened to undo all of China’s diplomatic inroads in Africa.
Probably due to the backlash China received from the US and other countries, for its alleged failure in containing the virus, Beijing was doing everything possible to avoid the occurrence of a second wave of infection. This fear saw the employment of drastic measures to contain the virus amongst foreigners who are entering China. Some have decried racism in the way African migrants were treated by Guangzhou city authorities following fears of a second wave of infection. African migration to China during and post COVID-19 might never be the same again.
But even before COVID-19, African population in China had seen a steep reduction. Guangzhou, the city in China that is the destination of most Africans, except for students and diplomats, had its African population decrease from about 100,000 in 2012 to about 13,000 in 2019.
There are more than a million of China’s citizens in Africa currently exploring all kinds of business opportunities. On the other side, the number of Africans in China, which hovered around only a quarter of the Chinese population in Africa some eight years back, keeps dwindling. Whereas Africa’s ruling class welcomes Chinese immigration, Chinese local authorities are using coronavirus to further cut back on African population in their cities.
Could This New Law Reverse The China-Bound African Immigration Trend?
Though nationals of developed countries may see the new immigration law as relaxed and flexible, the bar set by the law is too high for many African immigrants to climb. The law targets nationals of developed nations more than it targets those from developing nations. For Africans, the law at best only targets the crème-del-a-crème of the African society.
Of the Africans living in China, many either do not have valid immigration documents or are overstaying. For this set of Africans who make up the majority, the new immigration law offers no hope. The law also holds nothing for Africans who are locked out of China due to stiffer coronavirus surveillance in China. Many Africans who did not leave their cities of residence run the risk of deportation. Many Africans living in China currently do not meet the criteria set by the law. Not many earn an annual salary of $82,000 dollars. Except for students, many Africans do not have those high-end and in-demand skills that the law is looking for.
The law targets a section of Africans who are not interested in China, while ignoring the section of Africans whose interest never dies. Africa’s middle and professional classes are more interested in working and living in Europe and North America.
What Can African Governments Do About This Situation?
Of the million Chinese scattered across Africa, not many are pumping millions of dollars’ worth of investment into their host country’s economies. A sizable number of Chinese migrants in Africa are poor or low-income workers. Africa’s officials do not strictly enforce the rules on these Chinese.
In recent times, Africans have expressed strong xenophobic or more properly, afro-phobic sentiments against other Africans with whom they do not share the same nationalities. Take for instance the tension between Ghanaian and Nigerian Traders in Ghanaian cities. Or the outburst of xenophobic attacks against Africans of different nationalities in South Africa in 2019. Amidst all these, African grassroots’ disapproval of Chinese migrants has always come short of the distaste they have for each other.
African political approval of Chinese activities in Africa implies a punishment for anyone caught unjustly attacking a Chinese national. Some of these Chinese migrants have taken this immunity to their advantage by engaging in illegal activities such as illegal mining, known in Ghana as ‘Galamsey’, poaching, and illicit trade in rosewood. Therein lies the opportunity for African leaders to exert agency in Chinese immigration laws. In exchange for not tightening and strongly enforcing African immigration laws on Chinese immigrants, China must expand its immigration law to make it easy for Africans seeking economic opportunities in China.
In this negotiation, Africa has the upper hand. For every one African in China, there are four Chinese in Africa. The average African migrant in China has more purchasing power than the average Chinese migrant in Africa. The anticipated blow back on China for rejecting Africa’s proposal would urge China to adjust its immigration policy for inclusion.