The Guangzhou police have released numbers detailing the purported size and scope of the city’s foreign population.
By their count, which was released to the public on Monday through Xinhua News, there are roughly 80,000 foreign nationals currently calling the city home.
According to the report, half of the foreigners living in the city hail from Europe, Japan or South Korea. Meanwhile 15,000 were said to have come from the African continent – down from 20,000 in 2009.
That being said, it’s best to take these numbers with a grain of salt – it’s quite possible that the actual count is far higher than reported.
For one, this estimate doesn’t account for folks who have entered the city legally but have since overstayed their visas, nor does it account for individuals who entered the country irregularly in the first place. Both these populations are thought to be greater in Guangzhou than other Chinese cities.
Furthermore, laowai who reside in neighboring municipalities but use Guangzhou as a transport, cultural and commercial hub would also be excluded from this count.
The African population in particular is quite difficult to nail down. As a major global center for trade and manufacturing, Guangzhou has been steadily attracting a large community of African merchants, students and entrepreneurs since the 1990s.
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Many of these traders come and go with great frequency, engaging in a constant back-and-forth cycle of suitcase commerce that is so regular that they might as well live here, too. From the Public Security Bureau’s perspective however, these folks are merely visitors.
For example, Guangzhou’s deputy mayor told reporters in 2014 that while the official number of African residents at the time was only 16,000, annual entries and exits by African nationals at border crossings in the city numbered close to half a million.
An escalating police crackdown on overstayers and others with irregular immigration status over the past half-decade, along with ever-tightening visa restrictions, has caused portions of the foreign community to shrink significantly, while pushing those who remain further into the shadows.
Protesters march near Sanyuanli in 2009, in protest of the death of an African man who fell from a window while trying to escape police during a passport check.
For instance, the report lists the major sources of African expatriates in Guangzhou as Egypt, Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, leaving Nigeria – a country that Roberto Castillo, a lecturer on African Studies at Hong Kong University, notes faces some of the most restrictive visa controls and has historically been one of the most prominent homelands for Guangzhou’s African community – conspicuously absent.
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The report also notes, in conveniently vague language, that “among 1,000 illegal immigrants detained last year, most were from South East Asian countries such as Vietnam and Myanmar”.
An official from the Exit and Entry Administration of the Public Security Bureau told Xinhua that while the number of foreigners in the city has been on the rise in recent years, the number of criminal cases involving foreign nationals has gone down.