U.S., European trade groups press China to allow foreign staff back into the country

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – U.S. and European trade groups are lobbying China to allow foreign workers back into the country after it shut its borders from late March to non-Chinese nationals to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Having managed to all but halt domestic transmission of the virus, China now sees its biggest threat from cases imported from abroad.

Currently, it has only relaxed rules to allow some business travel from South Korea and Germany. It has also consulted with Japan about easing border controls.

A charter flight from Frankfurt, the first organised by the German Chamber of Commerce in China, is scheduled to land in Tianjin on Saturday carrying around 200 German company employees who obtained visas via a “fast-track” programme.

A second charter flight to Shanghai on June 3 is also planned and there are likely to be more given that 2,000-2,500 employees are waiting to enter China, said Jens Hildebrandt, the chamber’s North China executive director.

But staff of many nationalities employed by firms in China are still waiting for permission to return.

The China-Britain Business Council said China’s foreign affairs ministry is communicating with the British embassy to implement a “fast-track” entry arrangement for UK nationals on essential and urgent visits.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce has provided Beijing with a list of foreigners seeking return to China, according to Jacob Gunter, the chamber’s senior policy and communications manager for China.

“Although the process has been challenging … the European Chamber believes things are heading in the right direction,” he said.

Alan Beebe, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said his organisation knew of many senior executives who were stranded around the world.

“There has only been a small number of executives allowed back into China so far, all of which have been granted entry on an individual basis,” he said.

China’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

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