Is China purging out all foreigners?

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of China  ,
Thursday, July 3, 2008

Paul French, the Asia Pacific editor at Ethical Corporation (never heard of them before) has a bit of a rant about the visa situation and how it is hurting businesses, particularly as ethical businesses in the US getting ready their Xmas orders.

Along the way he takes a swipe at many of the foreigner living here in China, dubbing some as "wannabe freelance hacks dodging tax, or the legion of Eurotrash and American trustafarians ..."

China visas, ethics and Christmas: If you can't get in, you can't audit and order

China is cracking down on visas for foreigners due to the forthcoming Olympics. But the stricter regime has unintended consequences for quality and ethics audits in Chinese suppliers
For ethics minded companies, the China visa issue is now becoming more unpleasant than a stroll on a Qingdao beach

I'm not that bothered about the clear out of wannabe freelance hacks dodging tax, or the legion of Eurotrash and American trustafarians who've been slumming it in Shanghai and Beijing for years on dad's money.

And I'm certainly not bothered about the rumours that all chamber of commerce staff in Shanghai are having their visas denied - AmScam, BritScam, EUScam, etc. outside of Beijing (which recognises only one office per organisation and that is in Beijing), which have always technically been illegal.

True or not, the world will go on without AmScam or BritScam we suspect... Indeed, I suspect it will be a better place.

The real adverse effects of the visa crackdown will be felt and suffered by Chinese people and businesses.

Consider the following problems I've encountered in the last couple of weeks:

A number of brands manufacturing in China need to place Xmas orders. They have policies that independent factory inspections must occur to ensure working conditions etc as part of their corporate social responsibility.

They don't use local inspectors given the problems with those and formula box ticking scams.

However, their inspectors cannot get a visa, and so cannot approve the factory and so the contract cannot be awarded.

While Beijing may think the Olympics is worth all this, the fact is that the West cannot move Xmas to late February.

Even if (and there are no guarantees) things return to normal in September, it will be too late for these firms who need to get gear on boats in October for the holidays.

Now many are scrambling to find capacity in Vietnam, Bangladesh, etc., while any number of Chinese garment manufacturers (two thirds of whom operate on margins of less than 1.5% already) will go under.

A number of companies with production runs already underway are having to stall or delay work as they cannot get visas for their Quality Assurance (QA) staff to enter China.

Few are willing to let 500,000 leather jackets be produced without getting someone to do some QA, so delays are occurring, meaning factories will get paid late or have orders cancelled.

In Hong Kong last week, I was offered US$1,000 for every referral of a qualified, experienced China-based QA person we could find as desperation sets in.

Sourcers are finding visas problematic. Canton Fair this year was a bust, and now major sourcing centres such as Yiwu and Wenzhou are empty and local traders are disgruntled as they can't get deal volume as in the past due to regular customers being denied visas.

Several language training companies we know (the sort that do specialist corporate language training so all staff can do their jobs better and remain connected with the rest of the world) cannot get visas for their trainers to travel in and run classes - contracts lost, staff not receiving training.

All of the visa problems above are of course not about twenty-something foreigners hanging out in Shanghai bars, shonky English teachers boltholing in China or tax dodging.

This sort of stuff will ultimately force business failures, job losses and, ultimately, disgruntlement.

Traders I talked to at Wenzhou and Yiwu recently agreed with us that none of this was worth it in the name of a couple of weeks of minority sports.

A major fall out will be that people who have talked about moving production to other countries for some time are now actually having to do it to meet deadlines.

Smart manufacturers in those countries are offering keen prices and will go all out to do a good job - they know this is their moment in the sun, and a chance to win serious business away from China.

For many brands (once they have made the move, and if a good job is done) the inclination will be not to bother to go through the process of moving production back to China all over again.

Whether China wins the Olympics or not, the long lasting fall out from these silly Games will be serious and terminal for a lot of business people as a significant percentage of business moves elsewhere and doesn't come back once the Olympics are over.

The fact is that many good manufacturers have survived and absorbed energy costs, rising transport costs, high input and commodity costs, soaring freight costs, rising wage bills and new labour laws (not to mention tough western companies looking for cheap, cheap prices). But they may not be able to survive the actions of the visa issuing department. Stupid and sad.
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