As the regime intensifies confinements, some Chinese are already seeking to leave the country: "It's the fault of Covid zero"

As the regime intensifies confinements, some Chinese are already seeking to leave the country: “It’s the fault of Covid zero”

NEW YORK.- Clara Xie has wondered for years whether the day would come to leave China. Clara is annoyed by the Chinese censorship regime and, being a lesbian, she wants to live in a country that is more open to same-sex relationships. However, leaving his country seemed like a distant ideawas still young and did not even know which country to choose to emigrate to.

But the coronavirus and China’s draconian measures to stop it They made Clara think seriously: two years ago, due to travel restrictions, Clara was unable to see her girlfriend, who lives in the United States. Additionally, Clara lives in ShanghaiAnd in March, when the city went into strict lockdown again, Clara’s work as a model came to a complete halt.

Workers in protective gear stack boxes with food onto a cart for delivery to a neighborhood during a Covid-19 lockdown in Shanghai’s Jing’an district. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP)HECTOR RETAMAL – AFP

He is currently in talks with a experienced immigration lawyer to explore your options for leaving the country.

China enters third year of pandemic control and Clara is one of a small but growing number of Chinese citizens looking for the way out. Many are middle-class or wealthy residents of the shanghai citywho have been trapped for nearly two months in a fierce quarantine that has decimated their economy and limited access to food and medicine. Some, like Clara, have overseas ties and fear that China’s door to the world has been completely closed.. Others are put off by government censorship and surveillance, which the pandemic has only exacerbated.

“I can neither change nor denounce the current situation in China,” Clara says. “When you can’t change reality, it’s better to leave.”

This impulse to leave the country contrasts with the Beijing’s triumphant account of the pandemic, which claims that thanks to its rigid controls, China was the only refuge in a world ravaged by the virus. This flight of people is also a sign that the government’s “Covid zero” strategy has increasingly high costs.

Queues for testing in Beijing.  (Photo by Jade GAO / AFP)
Queues for testing in Beijing. (Photo by Jade GAO / AFP)JADE GAO – AFP

Last month, searches for the word “emigrate” increased by 440%, according to a data survey company. Some netizens have even coined a term for this trend: “escapist philosophy.” Immigration consultants say Requests from people wanting to leave China have skyrocketed since Shanghai’s lockdown.

“It’s doubled or more”says Edward Lehman, a Shanghai-based lawyer who offers immigration services.

The actual number of people who will eventually try to leave is anyone’s guess.. In fact, according to 2019 figures, only 10% of Chinese citizens have a passport. Besides, The United States has also tightened visa requirements for Chinese studentsciting reasons of national security.

Chinese authorities are also restricting exit attempts. Last week, the Chinese immigration administration announced that it would restrict the departure of Chinese citizens to carry out activities abroad “to what is strictly necessary”. The agency justified the measure in the context of the pandemic, to reduce the importation of cases, but some Chinese social media users say the measure seeks to stop the brain drain.

The government already announced last year that it would not renew or issue most common passports except those for business, study abroad or health emergencies. The number of passports issued in the first half of 2021 was only 2% of those issued during the same period in 2019, according to China’s National Migration Administration. In at least one city, Leiyang in Hunan province, authorities confiscated people’s passports to prevent them from leaving the country, although an official clarified this week that the measure was no longer in effect.

Coronavirus tests in Beijing.  (Photo by Jade GAO / AFP)
Coronavirus tests in Beijing. (Photo by Jade GAO / AFP)JADE GAO – AFP

Some Chinese citizens want to leave because they feel the country’s pandemic restrictions are leaving it behind the rest of the world.

“I feel like they don’t understand or care about all that we had to go through at that time”said Cherry Burton, 29, a Chinese citizen living in Shanghai who took her American husband’s last name. “And it’s all the fault of the ‘Covid zero’ policysaid Cherry.

Due to the strict quarantine in Shanghai, Cherry and her husband have not left their apartment since April 1. But they are already planning to leave the country as soon as the lockdown is lifted and she can complete her US visa application.

To circumvent restrictions on issuing passports, some Chinese people buy fake overseas job offers or acceptance letters from educational reported by Sixth Tone, a public media outlet based in Shanghai.

When explaining why they want to leave, network forum members talk about the locking monotony. Others cite economic problems, such as the difficulties young graduates have in entering the hyper-competitive job market.

Anyway, even the most ardent defenders of the “escape philosophy” recognize that the ways out are narrowand warn of the low chances of the visa lottery of Western countries and the costs of university tuition in these countries.

Vivian Wang and Alexandra Stevenson

New York Times

Translation by Jaime Arrambide

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