China is growing into an increasingly attractive migrant destination, with the number of immigrants soaring by 35 percent during the first decade of the 21st century.
That’s according to the 2013 World Migration Report, released and translated a week ago by the Center for China and Globalization, an independent, non-profit think tank based in Beijing.
“But compared with China’s high-speed development, it’s still not enough,” the organization’s director-general, Wang Huiyao, told the Mirror, a Beijing-based legal newspaper. “Just because many Chinese elites are going abroad, we are desperate for more talents to come in.”
The report also reveals a new trend that more people are moving from high-income countries to low-income nations in recent years, although the numbers are still relatively small, comprising 3-6 percent of global migration.
According to the report, China had 685,775 immigrants at the end of 2010, 35 percent more than that at the beginning of 2000. “Undoubtedly China is becoming a very appealing migrant destination,” Wang said.
Andereas Kohl, 38, has been working as an engineer in a car company in Shanghai for about six years. The German cites China’s dynamics and fast development as the biggest reason for settling down in China.
“China’s automobile industry is in its prime and it needs people like us. For me, I can easily find a job and do what I’m good at here,” Kohl said.
The World Migration Report indicates that economic opportunity is the biggest motivation for the global migration flow from developed to underdeveloped regions. It points out that northern countries are faced with financial crisis, while the southern countries have emerging new economies that are in need of technical talents.
China magnet for migrants
Due to rapid development and demographic changes, China is a lure for migrants. Labor shortages result in rising wages and more demand for foreign workers.
In addition, China is becoming headquarters for numerous international companies and institutions, and the expansion of multinational companies induces overseas Chinese to return to the country.
Statistics show that in 2011, the number of returned overseas students exceeded those who studied abroad for the first time — by 50 percent.
Having lived in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, for almost four years and married to a Chinese woman with two kids, Professor Jean-Francois Vergnaud has made the city his second home. “I love the country and the city. It’s my home now,” he said.
However, there is one thing that upsets the Frenchman. He is anxious to get a green card — permanent residence in China for foreigners. For now, he can only wait. Meanwhile, Vergnaud has to extend his work visa every year, a major inconvenience.
China’s green card, many expats joke, is the world’s hardest card to get. According to the Management of Permanent Residence in China for Foreigners, launched in 2004, one condition for a green card is that a foreigner must marry a Chinese spouse for at least five years and stay in China for at least nine months every year with a stable income and a place to live.
The green card system was implemented in 2004, and only about 4,700 cards were issued by the end of 2011, on average of just 248 a year. In contrast, more than 600,000 foreigners had settled down in the country at that time.
David Mok of Canada has been living in Shanghai for about six years. He has bought a flat and married a Shanghai woman, but he is still applying for his green card. “It feels like the country doesn’t welcome us very much,” he said with a bitter smile.
The latest statistics reveal that there are more than 800,000 foreign migrants in China, while the number of Chinese settling down overseas has reached almost 10 million. Wang called this phenomena “migrant deficit.”
Most Chinese going abroad are from the country’s elite and wealthy class, while migrants moving in are often from developing countries and regions, according to an agency specializing in immigration business in Beijing.
The migrant deficit and difference, Wang said, is due in part to China’s work permit, visa, green card and the nationality system not yet being open.
“Talents need to flow. China has not set up a complete migration system to cope with the global competition of human resources,” said Liu Guofu, a law professor at Beijing Institute of Technology.
“China has opened its door for various global economies, and it’s time for the country to open to the talents from the world,” Wang said. “People going out, we need more coming in.”
He pointed out that in the future, China should create an internship work visa for foreign students, improve the green card issue rate, lower the threshold for green card applications and launch a China citizenship path for foreigners.
“Each country wants to attract talents and reject those who cannot make contribution. So it’s urgent for China to perfect migrant laws and regulations,” Liu said.