Social Media

China's plans to ease its 'green card' rules for foreigners spark racist backlash online

Key Points
  • China proposed a new law that would make it slightly easier for foreigners to get a permanent residence or green card. 
  • The plan was met with racial backlash on Chinese social media, which spilled onto Twitter.
  • Tweets contained offensive language and racial slurs but Twitter said some of them did not violate its rules.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A proposed law that would make it slightly easier for foreigners to get a permanent residency in China set off a slew of racist and xenophobic backlash on Chinese social media, that eventually spilled over to Twitter.

But the U.S. social media company says many of those tweets do not violate its policies and some remain online.

The posts, which use offensive language and racial slurs, are a response to a proposed legislation at the end of February by Beijing that appears to ease some of the requirements for foreigners to get a permanent residency or so-called "green card" in China. 

With the proposed law, China is looking to attract overseas workers in areas such as science and technology, people with big investments in the country and talent to fill shortages in the economy. 

"From this exposure draft and this broadened eligibility criteria, we see the intent of the Chinese government to attract more foreign talents through a long-term working period in China," Dezan Shira & Associates, a professional services firm helping companies do business in Asia, said in a recent article

The company noted that "stringent criterion" still apply,however.

Despite this, Chinese "netizens" — or people on social media — were up in arms about the proposal. A hashtag that translates as "regulations on the administration of permanent residence of foreigners," was widely-used on Weibo, a microblogging site in China. But that hashtag and posts related to it were quickly banned on the service by the country's censors.

The conversation moved onto Twitter, using the same hashtag.

Several tweets, directed at black people and Africans, used the "N word." A couple of these tweets had been taken down, but several still remain. CNBC cannot show these tweets here due to the offensive and racist language. 

Others were more subdued.

A spokesperson for Twitter declined to comment when contacted by CNBC. 

Twitter's hateful conduct policy says users "may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. "

"We prohibit targeting individuals with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category," the policy reads.

The previous permanent residency rules in China were released in 2004. Since then, 20,000 foreigners have been granted a residency card, according to Li Qing, director of talent research at Beijing-based think-tank, the Center for China and Globalization, who was quoted in Global Times, a state-backed publication. In comparison, nearly 1.1 million people got a green card in the U.S. in 2018, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Despite China's rapid development, immigrants have never been a huge part of the Chinese population. In 2019, they accounted for just 0.1% of the entire population in the world's second-largest economy, according to the United Nations.

Some notable names that have received a Chinese permanent residency include former NBA star Stephon Marbury.