I am just returning from a delightful family vacation in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we got around mostly by taxi. Both my kids speak Spanish fairly well and I am totally willing to fake it. One of the things I quickly learned from our conversations with the taxi drivers is that there is a big split between the Puerto Ricans and the Dominicans. We heard of this during our first day there, in our second cab ride.
Our first cab ride had been from our hotel, with a very polite, very well spoken Dominican cab driver. Our second cab ride was from San Juan’s old town, and this driver was a very young Puerto Rican, who made it a point to spend maybe the first five minutes of the ride lecturing us on the differences between Puerto Rican and Dominican cabbies. As we careened wildly through San Juan’s streets, with the car radio blasting out Spanish hip-hop, he told us of how the Dominicans are all crazy drivers and how it is not even safe to get in their cabs. He then proceeded to make sure we knew that the Dominicans are all money-hungry and that is the only reason they drive a cab at all. My poor Spanish and being with my family prevented me from asking if he was driving a cab for charitable reasons. Lastly, the Dominicans are all in Puerto Rico illegally and they do not pay their taxes.
In other words, absolutely nothing we all haven’t heard a million times in a million places about some immigrant or minority group somewhere.
I am telling you about the cab situation in San Juan to highlight how routine this sort of thing is, not that it is ever right. And I certainly do not have to be a sociologist to point out that these sorts of comments and, more importantly, actions based on these sorts of comments, increase when times are bad or even when times are perceived to be bad.
I thought of that today when I read a post on Shanghaiist entitled, “Crackdown underway on foreigners teaching without work visas.” The gist of the post is that the Shanghai Daily had run an article letting everyone know that the Shanghai police are reminding “foreigners without work visas not to look for employment in the city.” This reminder also notes that if you are “found out, you’ll be fined and deported.” I also thought of the San Juan comments when I returned maybe the tenth email from a Shanghai-based consultant friend of mine, who has, over the last three months or so, been screaming about the various things the Chinese government is doing (starting with its imposing the social insurance taxes on foreigners) to drive down the population in China. My response to him is usually just to tell him that my law firm has been seeing an increase in requests for help from businesspeople deported from China for not having a proper visa.
The bottom line is that as China’s economy heads South, or even as fears of its doing so increase, we can expect that pressures on foreigners operating illegally in China will increase. To repeat, pressures on foreigners operating illegally in China will increase. I repeated this sentence because it seems like whenever I write about China cracking down on those there illegally, someone almost always attacks me for criticizing China for following the law. Wrong. I am drawing no moral conclusions here. All I am saying is that right now (and the next six months) is not a good time to be operating illegally in China as you can expect China to step up enforcement of its laws against foreigners and your chances of being caught in that have just gone way up.
If you are working in China without a work visa or running an unregistered business, you are at risk. You will be seen as taking jobs from locals and there will be little to no sympathy shown.
UPDATE: Just saw that the Lost Laowai Blog did a post, entitled, “From Foreign Friends to Foreign Felons – new law wants your foreign fingerprints,” on a China Daily post discussing how China is looking to tighten its enforcement and its laws regarding foreigners overstaying their visas. Many see this (and China’s mandating that foreigners pay into China’s social insurance as another example of China’s tightening the screws on foreigners. Though I have a tough time challenging China on a legal basis for these new laws (and I recognize that the United States already has similar laws in place), I do not think it a coincidence that these laws were enacted and are being proposed during tough times. China’s paranoia about foreigners taking jobs from Chinese nationals is probably justified, but by the same token, if you are a foreigner in China right now and feeling a bit paranoid yourself, that too is entirely justified as well.
What are you seeing out there and what do you think about it?