New visa strategy: Is Shanghai the next trendy start-up hub?

Published 2019-05-21 12:43

Shanghai’s new visa strategy for entrepreneurs could be a real game-changer. In this article, explores what could make the city a dynamic, innovative start-up hub.

Having long established itself as one of the undisputed leaders in finance and shipping, Shanghai’s next objective is to become a global hub for science and technology.

To achieve this, the city has unveiled a series of incentives spread over the course of the next ten years. These include a massive industrial push in the form of a national science centre, development of specific industries (artificial intelligence, integrated circuits), establishment of makers’ and start-up hubs, and more. But in addition to that, the city is also unveiling visa incentives to attract outside investment and ideas into the city.

One of them is the new business start-up visa, which will be granted to expats with innovative business plans wishing to set up shop in Shanghai. Valid for one year -with extension options if company incorporation can be demonstrated-, the start-up visa is open to groups who have previously been excluded from other visa categories: namely, recent graduates and those over 60. District limitations may apply when it comes to business location: expats are encouraged to set up base in the city’s developing districts like Changning and Yangpu.

There are additional incentives for new graduates, studying both in China and abroad. Expat students who have graduated from a Chinese university are encouraged to stay on in the city on a one year visa to explore business opportunities. Those who have graduated from reputable universities abroad and are able to present viable and innovative business plans are also welcome to come to Shanghai and try out their ideas.

By laxing its visa strategy, Shanghai intends to grow expat entrepreneurial activity in the region. The city is especially open to young innovative start-ups and aims to rival China's current tech start-up capital, Shenzhen- a city adjacent to Hong-Kong.

And it will be no easy feat. Emil Tan, a former Shanghai expat moved to Shenzhen particularly because of the lack of opportunities for start-ups in the city. “When I first arrived in Shanghai four years ago, the tech start-up scene just wasn’t there. I saw a city of large banks and company headquarters, but nothing I could really contribute to on the small scale”. He went on to move to Shenzhen and founded a start-up hub for small local companies.

One thing expats hope the authorities will get rid of is the administrative barrier. Joseph Moss, a newly arrived Shanghai expat looking for opportunities in software development feels that it could be a deterrent for many entrepreneurs. “I've heard that there are favorable changes in the city's business regulations, but navigating the paperwork is still a formidable obstacle for those unfamiliar with local practices”.

Capable of offering favourable manufacturing conditions and known as the country’s prime expat destination, Shanghai still has a lot going for it in becoming the city of international entrepreneurship. Indeed, Shanghai does possess a very strong manufacturing base, which would be one of the main building blocks of its expat business development campaign.

There is no official data as of yet regarding how many new foreign-owned companies have been established in Shanghai — but the city aims to grow this number exponentially. Moreover, Shanghai is not the only city aiming to boost entrepreneurial activity in the coming years. As an example of China’s thirst for high-end expat talent, the country’s southwestern province of Yunnan has also introduced a set of measures to attract foreign investment.