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Green card doesn’t mean a green light to accessing China’s services
By Zhao Wen

Noyan Rona, 57, a native of Turkey who runs the Shanghai representative office of Garanti Bank, was issued a Chinese permanent residency card — also know as a “green card” — in August 2012. But despite official claims to the contrary, the card has proven no substitute for his passport.

The card has been issued to so few foreigners working and living in Shanghai that its use in personal banking, hotel reservations, airline booking and other public services isn’t quite the carte blanche Rona expected.

“Mostly, the green card doesn’t work very well,” said Rona, who came to China in 1983.

“If I insist on using the card, I am told I need my passport. Many offices simply ignore my explanations and refuse me service as they don’t recognize the card as valid identity.”

On paper, the green card guarantees permanent residency, conferring on holders the same status as local Shanghainese using identity cards. It also means that cardholders don’t have to keep renewing their visas to stay in China or to leave and return to China.

Select group

The green card, issued by China’s Ministry of Public Security, first appeared in 2004. It is available to a small, select group of people, including those who have invested a minimum US$500,000 in China, those who hold upper echelon posts - such as deputy general managers, deputy directors and associate professors - and those who live in China with spouses or relatives on a permanent basis.

In Shanghai, about 1,300 of the estimated 170,000 foreigners living in the city held green cards in June 2012, reported the Shanghai Qiaobao newspaper.

Nationally, about 5,000 foreigners held green cards at the end of last year, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

More than half of the green card holders are people who have come to live in China with family members. The rest are mostly professionals from the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia and Germany. Most live in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other mega-cities.

The cards are supposed to be a substitute for passports when conducting official business. But they are so rare that many offices don’t know what they are and refuse to accept them in lieu of a passport.

Daily activities

It’s only since September 2012 that foreigners were allowed to use the cards to open bank accounts, book domestic tickets, check into hotels and perform other daily activities.

That privilege was granted in a regulation created jointly by 25 ministerial-level departments, including the Ministry of Public Security, the National Development and Reform Commission, the China Banking Regulatory Commission and Civil Aviation Administration of China.

But who reads every regulation promulgated by the central government?

Certainly not some of the people Rona has come up against.

Last month, he went to withdraw money from his account at a branch office of Citibank on the Bund, using his green card. At first, the teller insisted on a passport but relented after consulting with a manager.

“It was the first time I had seen a green card,” the teller explained later. “I didn’t know it has the same function as a passport for banking services.”

Citibank (China) said it has now instructed branch office employees to review regulations pertaining to the green card.

For Rona, it’s a hard slog. The card doesn’t seem to work for check-in at domestic budget chain hotels such as Motel168, Jinjiang Inn and Home Inn.

After much discussion, air ticket agents finally allowed him to use the card, but weren’t sure if airport security would let him pass with only the card.

“Every time I try to use it, I have to insist upon my rights,” Rona said. “It’s an uphill battle.”

An operator on the booking hotline at China Eastern Airlines told Shanghai Daily the green card is unacceptable when reserving a seat on a domestic flight. When the newspaper explained the card’s authorized use, the booking official merely replied, “The operator may not be familiar with the regulations.”

Rona said he understands that recognition of the card hasn’t reached frontline services.

“I can speak Chinese, so I have the advantage of being able to argue with people who don’t know about the card,” he said.

“But most foreigners can’t, so they get turned down if they don’t have their passports.”

The Shanghai Exit-Entry Administration, which handles local applications and issuing of the green cards, said it can’t address Rona’s problems because its job is only to collect applications and hand them over to the city’s Public Security Bureau.

The Shanghai Office of the China Banking Regulatory Commission said foreigners with complaints can use its 3865-0160 hotline.

Best benefit

It hasn’t been all obstructions for Rona. He said the best benefit of the card is letting him enter and leave China without a visa. He also opened an A-share stocks account with a Chinese securities broker using it.

Local traffic and airport authorities told Shanghai Daily they accept the green card for transport tickets. But for education, medical services and social security benefits, acceptance of the card is still a gray area.

“I want to let others know about my experience and maybe catch the attention of some authorities so fewer people suffer the same problems,” Rona said.

He said it would be helpful if the central government picked one departments involved with the card as a one-stop coordinator and sent green card regulations to frontline staff.

In the end, it may just be a matter of waiting until enough cards are in circulation.

Last year, China issued 1,202 green cards, up 83 percent from the previous year, according to a CCTV report.

Major benefits of the green card

1. Cardholders can use passports and green cards to enter and leave China without visa procedures.

2. They can establish foreign-invested enterprises. They can also use legally obtained yuan to do direct foreign investment in China.

3. Cardholders can attend evaluation and exams for technical professional titles.

4. Their children can receive compulsory education at local schools.

5. Cardholders have access to a variety of social insurance programs on par with Chinese nationals. Unemployed cardholders received medical and endowment insurance.

6. Cardholders can purchase homes and use publicly accumulated housing funds.

7. They can enjoy the same rights as Chinese nationals when dealing with financial services such as banking, insurance, securities and futures. Cardholders can also use their green card as their ID at financial establishments.

8. Cardholders can use the card as ID to buy air and rail tickets, and to check into hotels.

9. They can use the card as ID to apply for a driving license.

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