The country's top legislature passed a new exit and entry law over the weekend that stipulates harsher punishments for foreigners who illegally enter, live or work in China, while at the same time offering them more convenience.
Foreigners who illegally stay in the country may be fined up to 10,000 yuan ($1,573.56), double the maximum amount stipulated in the current law, or face detention of between five and 15 days, according to the law passed at the bimonthly session of the National People's Congress Standing Committee that closed Saturday.
Any expat caught working in China without valid employment documents will also be fined between 5,000 and 20,000 yuan, and a similar term of detention is possible in serious cases, says the law.
Those who commit "severe violations" that do not constitute crimes may be deported and not allowed to enter the country again for 10 years, it continues, saying people who assist in such illegal acts will also be punished.
The law comes in the wake of the recent nationwide crackdown on foreigners who enter, work or stay in China illegally, which has prompted widespread concerns that China is becoming less welcoming.
"I don't think China has a serious issue with illegal foreigners compared with some other countries, and harsher punishments might leave a negative impression with some people," said Peter Krasnopolsky, a university lecturer in Beijing from the US.
"China is still trying to attract talents and I don't think it should have the same level of strict laws as countries like the US," he said.
Punishing illegal activities is only part of the law, and there is nothing wrong with it, Liu Guofu, an immigration law specialist from Beijing Institute of Technology, told the Global Times.
"The main goal however, is to facilitate foreigners," he added.
Yang Huanning, vice minister of Public Security, said the goals of expats in China are "more diverse than ever, and their activities are wide-ranging and complicated," noting that the number of foreigners entering China has been increasing by 10 percent annually since 2000.
While tightening punishments for expats' activities deemed illegal, the law also underlines the country's increasing efforts to attract high-caliber foreign talents, as it includes a new "talent introduction" visa category as well.
The law further completes China's "green card" system and paves the way for further relaxing the requirements on permanent residency application, the Ministry of Public Security explains on its website.
It also aims to attract more tourists and businesspeople by allowing longer visa-free stopovers and allows more temporary entries based on international conventions and humanitarian considerations.
Liu said that China's exit and entry law is actually not as strict as some other countries' but there is still room for improvement in terms of procedures and services.
The law will take effect on July 1 next year, and before that, a set of regulations are expected to be worked out for its smooth implementation, according to the ministry.