Foreign permanent residents in China will have their "green cards" upgraded starting in July, which may make their daily life and work easier in the country, according to a reform plan issued by the Ministry of Public Security on Monday.
The existing permanent resident's permit, known as the Chinese green card, will be replaced by the Foreign Permanent Residence Identity Card.
Similar to the second generation of ID cards for Chinese citizens, the machine-readable smart card will contain a chip in which the foreigner's identity information is kept, and the information will be shared by railways, airlines, hotels and banks, according to the plan. The card also has anti-counterfeiting features, officials said.
"We're working closely with relevant departments to do the technical preparation so that the new cards can be smoothly used in the above mentioned sectors," said Wang Yugang, an officer with the ministry's Exit and Entry Administration Bureau.
All the preparation work will be completed before the end of June, and green card holders can then go to local public security agencies to replace their cards. If they choose not to exchange them for the new card, the existing cards are still valid until the expiration date, according to the ministry.
"We hope the new card gives foreign permanent residents a sense of belonging in China," Wang said.
China began to issue permanent residency permits in 2004. However, over the years, getting a Chinese green card has been difficult due to the high requirements. Ministry figures show that from 2004 to 2013, only 7,356 foreigners were granted the status.
Since September 2015, governments in China have gradually eased the residency and entry policies for foreigners, which has helped attract more talent from overseas to invest or open businesses and boosted international exchanges in China.
In 2016 alone, 1,576 foreigners became permanent residents in China, up by 163 percent year-on-year, according to the ministry.
However, green card holders have for long complained that the card is more like a long-term visa instead of facilitating their daily lives.
In February, the Central Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform, led by President Xi Jinping, approved a plan that calls for further reform of the permanent residency policy to facilitate foreigners living and working in China.
The ministry has accelerated reform to "grant green card holders easier access to public services in China and enable them to enjoy all rights related to residency", said Wu Ying, an official in charge of news at the ministry's Exit and Entry Administration Bureau.
Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank, said it's necessary and timely to have such a reform.
"As far as I know, the new ID card can be independently used without foreigners' passports and a foreign permanent resident will enjoy rights such as applying for a driver's license or applying for a primary school for their children," he said.
Ghulam Sajid, who is from Pakistan and obtained a permanent resident permit in China in 2013, said such upgrades will be much welcome and helpful.
"If the new cards alone can function as the Chinese people's ID cards, which allow people access to getting train tickets on machines instead of by manual service, getting on a train by swiping the card and checking in at hotels, that'll be much more convenient for us," said Sajid, 43, deputy manager of an import and export trade company in Shanghai.
He said currently, if he goes to banks, he needs to present his passport together with the permanent resident card. "It's quite rare that I can use the card alone to show my identity."
He also hoped the new card will make him eligible for registering on mobile payment applications as well as using the machines at hospitals to register, read medical reports and make payments.