The Chinese regime prohibits thousands of people from leaving the country and the number is growing day by day

Chinese passport (safeguarddefenders)

China increasingly prohibits people, including foreign executives, from leaving the country, a shocking message as authorities say the country is open for business after three years of strict COVID-19 restrictions.

Dozens of Chinese and foreigners have been seen trapped by exit bansaccording to a new report from the rights group Safeguard Defenderswhile an analysis of Reuters has found an apparent increase in court cases related to such bans in recent years, and foreign business lobbies are raising concerns about the trend.

Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, China has expanded the legal landscape of exit bans and has increasingly used them, sometimes without legal justification.”, reads the Safeguard Defenders report.

“Between 2018 and July this year, no less than five new or amended (Chinese) laws provide for the use of exit bans, to a total today of 15 lawssaid Laura Harth, the group’s campaign manager.

The group calculates that “tens of thousands” of Chinese have been banned from leaving at one point. He also cites a 2022 academic paper by Chris Carr and Jack Wroldsen that found 128 cases of foreigners banned from leaving between 1995 and 2019, including 29 Americans and 44 Canadians.

The focus on the exit bans comes as tensions between China and the United States have risen over trade and security disputes. This is in stark contrast to China’s message that it is opening up to foreign travel and investment, emerging from the isolation of some of the world’s most stringent COVID restrictions.

More and more laws provide for the use of exit bans (Reuters)
More and more laws provide for the use of exit bans (Reuters) (TINGSHU WANG /)

The analysis of Reuters of the records on exit bans, from the database of the Supreme Court of China, shows an eightfold increase in cases mentioning bans between 2016 and 2022.

Last week, China strengthened its anti-espionage law, allowing exit bans to be imposed on anyone, Chinese or foreign, who is under investigation.

Most of the cases in the database that refer to exit bans are civil, not criminal. Reuters it found none involving foreigners or politically sensitive issues of subversion or national security.

By comparison, the United States and the European Union impose travel bans on some criminal suspects, but generally not in the case of civil lawsuits.


China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for Reuters for comment on the exit bans, including questions about how many people, including foreigners, are subject to them.

One of the people prevented from leaving China this year is a Singaporean executive with US due diligence firm Mintz Group, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The company, the executive and the China Public Security Bureau did not respond to requests for comment.

Mintz said in late March that authorities had searched the company’s office in China and detained five local employees. The Foreign Office said then that Mintz was suspected of engaging in illegal business operations. Police visited Bain & Co’s Shanghai office and questioned staff, the US management consultancy reported last week.

Due to the increasing tensions between the US and China, the importance of this risk (exit ban) has increasedsaid Lester Ross, a veteran lawyer in China who has tried exit ban cases.

“I have observed a increase in companies and entities concerned about this issue and that they ask us for advice on how to prepare and reduce the risks” of the exit bans, said Ross, head of the China policy committee at the US Chamber of Commerce.

Xi Jinping and Joe Biden (Reuters)
Xi Jinping and Joe Biden (Reuters) (KEVIN LAMARQUE /)


Foreign companies are concerned about heightened scrutiny and the vague wording of anti-espionage legislation, which says exit bans can be imposed on those who cause “harm to national security or significant harm to national interests.”

“The uncertainty is huge,” says Jorg Wuttke, head of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China. “Can you act with due diligence? Clarity has to come.”

The EU chamber told Reuters in a statement: “At a time when China is proactively trying to restore business confidence to attract foreign investment, exit bans send a very mixed signal.”

People barred from leaving China include regular Chinese embroiled in financial disputes, as well as rights defenders, activists and lawyers, and ethnic minorities such as the Uyghurs of China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, according to the Safeguard Defenders report.

He cites a Chinese court report according to which 34,000 people were subjected to exit bans between 2016 and 2018 for owing money, an increase of 55% over the same period three years earlier.

Some activists say the broader use of exit bans reflects tighter security measures under President Xi.

“They can find any reason to stop you from leaving the country,” said Xiang Li, a Chinese rights activist who was denied departure for two years before escaping China in 2017 and later receiving asylum in the United States.

China has no rule of law“, said to Reuters over the phone from California. “The law is used to serve the purposes of the Chinese Communist Party. It’s very effective.”

(With information from Reuters)

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