China green card overhaul
A foreigner shows her 'green card' for permanent residency which she received from a city official during an event in this file photo Claro Cortes/Reuters

China is overhauling its green card system for permanent residents in order to attract more foreign talent in the country. The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) on Monday, 17 April announced that the proposed reforms would be introduced in July.

The state-run news agency, Xinhua, said the foreigner's permanent residence card, known as the Chinese "green card," would be renamed as "foreigner's permanent residence identity card" – meaning it would henceforth serve as an ID card as well. This is in line with the residents' identity cards of the Chinese citizens.

According to the MPS, which is tasked with residence affairs in the Chinese mainland, new smart cards with embedded chips would be given to permanent residents. The move would give them easier access to public services in China.

The machine-readable card would also be useful for practical purposes such as purchasing air tickets.

"What's inconvenient is that so few foreigners have them, and people don't know how to deal with it. I hope that staff at both government departments and service sectors will be more familiar with its functions," Jonathan, an American national residing in China for 20 years, was quoted as saying. The existing version of the certificate remains more symbolic with little practical purpose.

An MPS official said though the permanent residence certificate is a legal document for expats to live in China, many are not aware of it. As the existing system of certificates is not machine-readable unlike the Chinese citizens' cards, this causes major inconvenience to the foreigners, the official added.

Special training would also be given to the government staff in order to ensure a smooth running of the process once it comes into effect in July.

Since 2004, when the green card scheme was introduced, just over 7,300 out of the 600,000 estimated foreigners living in the country have been granted permanent residency.

However, year 2016 witnessed a sharp rise with as many as 1,500 foreigners receiving their permanent residence certificates.