BEIJING >> If you’ve ever wondered what class of person you are, move to China and find out.
Starting Nov. 1, the government will begin sorting foreigners into three categories: A, B and C. It is part of a new nationwide work permit system that aims to build an innovation-driven economy by “encouraging the top, controlling the middle and limiting the bottom” of foreigners in China, the state news media reported.
“It aims to better serve overseas talent coming to work in China,” said Zhang Jianguo, the leader of the State Administration of Foreign Experts, which will run the system that is to go nationwide on April 1 after being tested in nine cities or provinces, including Beijing and Shanghai.
The planned change is creating a buzz among foreigners working here who are keen to know: How will the government classify me?
According to the most recent official figures, in the 2010 census, about 200,000 foreigners worked legally in China and an additional 400,000 were family dependents.
The number seems low. In an email interview, Eric Liu, a consultant at Foreign HR, a human resources company based in Beijing, estimated that there were about 2 million in total in 2015, with up to 300,000 more working illegally, usually on tourist visas. China needs many more foreign workers, but it is often hard for them to receive visas, he said.
“Companies of every type need foreign workers for economic development, whether big state-owned enterprises or private companies,” he said.
The prospect of being classified is disconcerting to some. James, a former high school instructor in Wyoming who teaches kindergarten in Beijing, wondered how teachers would be defined. He asked to be identified only by his first name to avoid drawing negative attention from his employer.
“They haven’t released how the scoring system is going to work,” he said in an interview. “That’s a worry to me. I’d like to know how I can become an asset to China, and exactly where I stand.”
Teachers would probably be classified as Bs, said Liu, who has studied the sparse information available.
James agreed. “Initially I had a very negative reaction to being Class B,” he said. He likened the feeling to “now I’m just a Class B foreign worker!”
Still, the new system, which will be computerized and linked with a photo ID and number for each worker — the old system was mostly paper-based — could bring benefits: “If it’s going to create more transparency and accountability, I think it’s going to be a good thing,” James said.
The China Organization Personnel Newspaper, a publication under the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Services, gave a few more details than most.
Class A will include top professional, innovative and creative talent, the newspaper said, without offering concrete examples.
Class B will include other professionals who fit with China’s economic development plans and could fill short-term gaps, especially in management and technical areas, it said. There will be limits in international trade, sports, culture and education.
Class C will include unskilled or service industry workers. These should be “strictly limited,” the paper said.
Points will be assigned according to salary, education level, Chinese-language skills and age, among other things, with at least 85 points needed to qualify as an A, at least 60 for B and fewer than 60 for C, the paper said.
An official reached by telephone at the State Administration of Foreign Experts information section said that details were still being worked out and would be released in a staggered fashion as the policy evolved. She asked not to be identified because she was “just giving some personal advice.”
She said that The New York Times could email her questions, and “if they’re good,” she may include The Times in a news media list for future announcements. But she asked not to be contacted too much, saying she was “extremely busy,” leaving many questions unanswered. Including whether journalists, like teachers, would be Bs in China.