Foreign Staff at EU Firms in Shanghai Still Unable to Return, Business Group Says

August 6, 2020 Updated: August 6, 2020

SHANGHAI—Over half of European companies in China’s financial hub of Shanghai still have foreign staff who are unable to return after coronavirus border restrictions were imposed in March, a survey indicated on Thursday.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce said the survey, conducted in July, had received answers from 143 companies, or about a quarter of its members.

Of the respondents who had staff yet to return to Shanghai, 53 percent said it was because of administrative requirements involved in obtaining a reentry visa, while 48 percent had their applications denied or delayed. Small and medium firms (SMEs), in particular, were affected disproportionately, the chamber said.

“Securing the return of foreign nationals to Shanghai is critical to restoring normality for our member companies, especially SMEs,” said Carlo D’Andrea, vice president and the Shanghai chairman of the European Chamber.

A security guard wearing a face mask
A security guard wearing a mask stands near the Bund Financial Bull statue and a display showing an image of a medical worker following the COVID-19 outbreak, in Shanghai, China, on March 18, 2020. (Aly Song/Reuters)

“Declining revenues and the lack of predictability, coupled with the increasing unwelcoming atmosphere experienced by many, are beginning to pose a threat to the long-term viability of the Shanghai market for foreign investors.”

The Shanghai city government and the Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

China regards cases imported from abroad as a threat and has relaxed its rules only to allow some business travel from South Korea, Germany, and Singapore.

Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Chamber, said 2,500 German business people usually based in China had yet to return.

Also of concern, Wuttke said, was the inability of many foreign teachers to return to their schools in China, especially as the schools look to reopen for a new term in September.

Across the southwestern cities of Chongqing and Chengdu, as well as the capital Beijing, about 4,700 foreign national teachers and their dependents were still stuck abroad and this could potentially dent plans to resume classes, he said.

By Brenda Goh