SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Over half of European companies in China’s financial hub of Shanghai still have foreign staff who are unable to return after coronavirus border restrictions were imposed in March, a survey indicated on Thursday.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce said the survey, conducted in July, had received answers from 143 companies, or about a quarter of its members.

Of the respondents who had staff yet to return to Shanghai, 53% said it was because of administrative requirements involved in obtaining a re-entry visa, while 48% had their applications denied or delayed. Small and medium firms (SMEs), in particular, were affected disproportionately, the chamber said.

“Securing the return of foreign nationals to Shanghai is critical to restoring normality for our member companies, especially SMEs,” said Carlo D’Andrea, vice president and the Shanghai chairman of the European Chamber.

“Declining revenues and the lack of predictability, coupled with the increasing unwelcoming atmosphere experienced by many, are beginning to pose a threat to the long-term viability of the Shanghai market for foreign investors.”

The Shanghai city government and the Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Having managed to curb domestic transmission of the virus, China now regards cases imported from abroad as the biggest threat and has relaxed its rules only to allow some business travel from South Korea, Germany and Singapore.

Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Chamber, said 2,500 German business people usually based in China had yet to return.

Also of concern, Wuttke said, was the inability of many foreign teachers to return to their schools in China, especially as the schools look to reopen for a new term in September.

Across the southwestern cities of Chongqing and Chengdu, as well as the capital Beijing, about 4,700 foreign national teachers and their dependents were still stuck abroad and this could potentially dent plans to resume classes, he said.

(Reporting by Brenda Goh with additional Reporting by Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

A view of the centre of Shanghai, near the Pudong Lujiazui financial area, September 9, 2010. China must maintain curbs on speculative housing demand as the benefits of the crackdown will outweigh the drawbacks, the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, said on Thursday. REUTERS/Aly Song (CHINA – Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY)