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After two years of border restrictions and closures, some Chinese citizens consider emigration

The planned departures, many by middle- and upper-class residents of Shanghai, China’s most prosperous city, come as the country reaffirms its commitment to a tough COVID-19 policy.

More than two years of border restrictions and a prolonged Shanghai lockdown are prompting some Chinese citizens to consider emigration, a prospect once unthinkable for many, report says The Wall Street Journal.

Rigorous lockdown

The city’s strict lockdown – now in its seventh week, but lifted and tightened at times to residents’ frustration – is part of the ruling Communist Party’s ‘zero-COVID’ policy that has taken a heavy economic toll and that even the world According to the Health Organization, this could be unsustainable.

The planned departures, many by middle- and upper-class residents of Shanghai, China’s most prosperous city, come as the country reaffirms its commitment to a tough COVID-19 policy that has diverged sharply from the rest of the world.

A Shanghai resident was about to get a coveted residence permit in Shanghai. But the city-wide lockdown, which lasted more than six weeks, rocked her and left her searching for a way out. She is now considering emigrating to the United States, where her employer is based.

the the wall street journal spoke to more than a dozen Chinese citizens considering or accelerating exit plans as Shanghai’s lockdown drags on and Beijing’s leaders redouble their commitment to their zero COVID strategy.

‘Yimin’

Lawyers and immigration officials say they have seen an increase in inquiries over the past month. Emigration-focused chat groups have sprung up on China’s ubiquitous WeChat messaging app as well as crypto platforms like Telegram.

In the past two months, said Ying Cao, a New York-based immigration attorney, inquiries from wealthy Chinese individuals and middle-class professionals have increased 10 times compared to the last year.

“They feel like it’s 1949 again,” Ms Cao said, referring to the exodus of more than two million Chinese to Taiwan and Hong Kong as the Communist Party took control of the part. mainland of China. “There is a shared sense of fear and urgency to get out.”

The goal in Shanghai is to achieve “elimination in society”, meaning that any new cases would only involve people already in isolation, Vice Mayor Wu Qing told a news conference. This would allow for “orderly opening, limited (population) flow and differentiated management”, Wu said.

No exact date beyond the middle of the month was given, and Wu did not specify how the reopening would happen, except that the city intends to gradually restore industrial production, education and services. medical.

Shanghai officials have made similar assurances in the past, only for restrictions to return even as cases dwindle in the city of 25million.

Complaints about food shortages and other hardships and videos posted online showing residents in Shanghai and other areas arguing with police have been deleted by censors.

WeChat searches for yimin, the Chinese word for emigration, began to surge in March, around the time Shanghai was tightening COVID controls in response to a surge in cases.

On March 15, Chinese users searched for or shared content involving yimin 16 million times, according to publicly available data from WeChat. A month later, on April 15, there were 72 million such searches and shares. A Chinese character, transliterated as run, a homophone of the English word, has become a popular meme in recent weeks.

As emigration searches have multiplied, the word itself seems to have become sensitive. Analytics tools operated by Chinese internet giants Baidu Inc. and Weibo Corp. no longer provide data on search interest for the term. Baidu declined to comment. Weibo did not respond to requests for comment, according to the the wall street journal report.

Not so easy

While the desire for emigration is thought to be largely confined to wealthy young city dwellers, their growing sense of alienation reflects growing domestic discontent with Beijing’s COVID strategy, which seeks to crush even small outbreaks of COVID-19. virus with severe restrictions on the movement of people.

On Friday, Shanghai said it recorded 2,096 new COVID infections, accounting for most new cases nationwide. Although cases have dropped significantly since late March, authorities in recent days have tightened restrictions in Shanghai, pledging to eradicate the virus completely.

Even for those with the financial means to leave, the process has become more complicated. China has tightened border controls and strengthened measures to prevent capital flight. Restrictions have increased on notarizations for immigration-related purposes, particularly asset notarizations for those trying to emigrate through investment immigration programs, says an immigration lawyer based in the United States and an immigration agent based in Australia.

Already severely limited rights to privacy, free speech and personal autonomy have been further curtailed in the name of fighting the pandemic. China’s borders have been largely closed for more than two years, and this week the government said it would tighten restrictions on Chinese citizens’ overseas travel and tighten control over passport issuance.

This week, Chinese immigration authorities said they would more strictly regulate exit permit approvals in a bid to curb what they called “unnecessary outbound travel”.

At a meeting last week, the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee said it was committed to “resolutely opposing any attempt to distort, question or reject China’s anti-COVID policy.”

“In the face of growing uncertainties due to COVID-19, one thing remains certain: China will stick to its aggressive zero COVID policy which has proven to be pragmatic and effective,” the official said. Xinhua News Agency said in an editorial.

With contributions from agencies

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