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Expat Exodus: Why Foreigners Are Leaving China

Oct 03, 2013 Translated by eChinacities.com Comments (33)     Add your comment Newsletter

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Editor’s note: Have you wondered what the sound of a deflating balloon with Chinese characteristics sounds like? It sounds like a sad trombone. Yes, the news that has been well-known among expats is finally dawning upon Chinese: the “laowai” is leaving, and he’s not coming back. In this translated Chinese article, the writer states some familiar facts to the expat community but also supports it with some shocking travel statistics.

According to statistics released by the Chinese Domestic Tourist Department, the total number of foreigners coming to China for business and tourism only amounted to 12,759,100 visitors for the time period of January to June of this year, a drop of 5.18% from the same time period last year.

Aside from a slight increase of African tourists, the total number of visitors entering China from January to June from other parts of Asia, the Americas, Europe and Oceania have seen varying degrees of decline. The recorded 1,399,200 visitors from Japan during the same time period marks a 25.5% decrease from last year, and the 221,500 Japanese tourists that entered China in the month of June represents a 30.22% decrease from 2012.

The scope of the vast decrease of tourists visiting Beijing has been particularly shocking. As numbers from the Beijing Tourism Department show, there were only 1.9 million visitors to the city of Beijing during the first six months of this year, a 15% drop in visitors when compared to the same time last year. This past June, the number of foreign visitors to China was 19% less than the numbers recorded for last year.

Expat blogs and articles signal the end

In times up to the present, China had acted as the head of the “BRIC” countries and fuelled the engine that powered the growing world economy with its “high-grade ore”. The recent perspective of many foreign media publications has been that foreigners come to China to gain opportunities and make money. However, a change started from last August. The news that foreigners stationed in China were leaving to return home started to be seen in newspapers throughout the world, signalling an “expat exodus”.

Expat Exodus: Why Foreigners Are Leaving China
Source: SoniaT 360

It was at that time that Englishman Mark Kitto, successful entrepreneur and long-time China expat who had his two children here with his Chinese wife, had an article published in Prospect Magazine. This article, titled “You’ll Never Be Chinese – Why I’m Leaving the Country I Loved”, represented the phenomenon of foreigners leaving China en masse. In March, 2013, the website of CNN Financial News published an article written by the Dutch founder of video-sharing website Tudou, Marc van der Chijs. In the article, van der Chijs stated that he is “leaving Beijing to reside in Vancouver”. As well, documentarian Charlie Custer also published an article around the same time that announced his intention to leave China.

Competition facing foreigners living in China is becoming more intense

Starting from December 1, 2010, the tax system governing both domestic and foreign-invested enterprises have been unified. As a result, the tax polices enjoyed by foreign enterprises as a result of “trans-national treatment” has come to an end. And as the Chinese economy slows down and competition in the market becomes more intense, living as a foreigner in China has become more difficult.

At present, not only do the foreigners in China have to compete with the other foreigners stationed in China but also have to contend with young graduates and older Chinese that have undergone higher learning; this is especially the case with competition from Chinese overseas students that have returned to China.

“Before the year 2006, you could come to China and get paid for writing just about anything on the back of an envelope; this goes for myself as well,” said Anne Stevenson Yang to a reporter with the Chinese version of Business Week. Yang is from the USA and is one of the founders of J Capital Research, a stocks and bond analysis firm headquartered in Beijing. Yang has spent 21 years in China, but has already sold off her home here and is preparing to purchase a home in New York.

The hidden and high costs of coming to China

The problems are many: the “Air Apocalypse” of China’s north-east in January; internationally broadcasted news of Chinese parents panic buying milk powder from international outlets all over the world highlighting the issue of food safety; and, the rising Chinese Yuan. It is these issues that are prompting foreigners in China to plan their eventual retreat, triggering an “expat exodus”.

“You read about the ‘heavy fog’, news about food products… frankly speaking, all the news you read about is negative,” said Frank Eric, a spokesperson with a tourist agency in Munich, Germany during an interview with the Associated Press. This situation is analogous to the March 11 earthquake in Japan in which long queues of approximately 2500 people in length, would line up to exit the country due to fears of radiation contamination.
 
Founder of Tudou, van der Chijs explains that the reasons for leaving China are very simple. “The pollution is too heavy, food safety has problems, and the increasing difficulty for foreigners to do business in China.” It is that last point that many other people also sympathize with. Shaun Rein, a member of a market research think tank in China, wrote an article in Business Weekly that highlighted the problems faced by foreigners in China. In his opinion, “although corruption and illegal activities can be found everywhere, foreigners still want to set up enterprises in China. [Foreigners] have to abide by the law, pay domestic taxes; everything they do must be ‘on the table’.”  However, foreigners are also likely to face “unwanted risks” that threaten their companies’ livelihood. A classic example of this would be the recent scandal involving bribery and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

Coupled with the above mentioned problems is also the issue of long-term visa restrictions, or as some reports have suggested, reluctance on the part of China to grant Chinese green cards to foreign nationals. Most working expats live here on a year to year basis, haunted by fears of not getting their visas successfully renewed. In a country where even “old China hands” are regarded as temporary guests and where a truly international environment seems out of reach, it seems that China is advertently keeping its doors only slightly open. Is it any wonder then that foreigners are choosing to leave? 

Source: QQ News

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Keywords: foreigners in China Expat Exodus foreigners leaving China

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33 Comments ( Add your comment )

1
comment|40507|257852
tomgee

Laowai are here to find some kind of success of their own. People like you are definitely not here to help China see the light, it's because you cannot succeed in your own country. So it's time to stop basking in your own self deception and sense of superiority and be thankful for what you have; if you're here working, kneel and thank the people of this country for feeding you.

Oct 10, 2013 20:47
2
comment|41955|231880
Raunchy

I did not need to come to china to find some way to succeed when I was in my own country I had my own company for 10 years before coming to china, I only come to china for 3 months to meet a woman i was in contact with for 2 years only to find she was a cheat and was only looking for a Visa to my country, it Go to show how many chinese back then want to get out of china and get a way from the chinese way of life, but at the very start to see how good china is in the most part and later decided to stay here as the people are friendly and good to me in the most part before the 2008 Olympics, after this time china went very strange and its getting more out of control and its not from so many laowai coming to china its china its self not wanting to understand them. in the last 3 years i have been told Chinese people don't even use the word laowai if they respect Foreigner

Dec 09, 2013 21:05
3
comment|40390|268223
Pneuteboom

A pretty self-centured and unrealistic view on all changes Traveler, sorry to say it this blunt as a fellow-laowai. Laowai are important, but I don't think the word 'essential' is applicable anymore, if it ever has been. The situation is getting more difficult yes. Visa are more difficult to obtain, control measures are increasing and same goes for competition. Wow! the times that visa were available to buy on every corner of the street are over, more laowai are stepping in the Chinese market for personal (often shortterm) gain and those precious moments of being heavenly admired for just being a laowai are getting scarce because some of 'us' have been causing problems... All true, but isn't that called development?

Oct 03, 2013 10:58
4
comment|40391|5289
carlstar

The desperate will fill the gaps. It is a good way to make foreigners pay lower and in line with locals. Business will love it and the top % will make more money as usual. Capitalism at its best

Oct 03, 2013 11:02
5
comment|40393|22700
juanisaac

When economic times are tough many countries find a convenient scapegoat- the foreigner. China is no stranger to this love/hate relationship with the "other." During the Great Depression, the USA deported over one millionn people. Many of these were Mexican. Then when WWII happened, and manpower was needed everywhere, the USA brought back even more Mexicans in the Bracero Program. Again in the 1950's, the USA had "Operation Wetback" that deported 500k people, again mostly Mexicans. See the pattern here? The Chinese are having this swing back and forth with the foreigners that come. We were welcomed during the past 20 years when times were good. Now, things are slowing down. But with less than 1 million foreigners, you only have so many to blame. You've had great cosmopolitan emperors in China that are more open to outside influences that will help srtengthen the country like Kang xi of the Qing Dynasty. My hope is that this is just a cycle, and does not deteriorate into another Boxer Rebellion.

Oct 03, 2013 12:34
6
comment|40407|63302
Mr_spoon

Non-business wise, things are getting more expensive, good job opportunities aren't as abundant as before, and people are getting more douchy (Beijing has become such a poser town, it's disgusting). Gee, I wonder why would anyone ever want to leave such a wonderful place...

Oct 04, 2013 15:01
7
comment|40408|41839
lightend

waiting for wife to get her visa. theres been some good times here, but im not as young as I used to be and I just dont have the strength to keep swimming upstream here.

Oct 04, 2013 20:14
8
comment|40417|259098
Guest2331884

Don't get fooled by this article. Some Laowais are leaving, some laowais are coming. Don't judge by a stupid article what's going on. Fact is that Chinese are smart enough to do whatever benefit their own country, period! So does everybody else. They are not gonna fuck this up, if their country is doing well, whether they let foreigner in or out, they will regular it to their best interest and stop speculating, how much do we know? Nada! If you go to America as a foreigner, they don't give you special privilege or welfare, why on earth would they? Foreigners are leaving China due to many reasons, just look around your expat friends and you know.

Oct 05, 2013 20:30
9
comment|40426|229037
doubleaa

what about the 12 million plus latin Americans who come to America illegally and get free health care, medicare, and now in place like California they can get drivers liscence and can go to college and get Law Degrees. Iam not against giving Latins or any other minorities in America rights, but you are not correct. Many illegalls who come to America get entitlements. Obviously you dont know a lot about what is really going in America. NOt speculation, these are facts.

Oct 06, 2013 14:31
10
comment|40437|259098
chuckberry

You are talking about illegal immigrants, they buy their SS number, work illegally on the street which is tolerated by the government. They do not get free medicare, unless you tell me and I would go and get it for myself. America use them as cheap labor, you are talking about a different topic. You are talking about immigrant, I'm talking about foreigners!

Oct 07, 2013 07:15
11
comment|40441|229037
doubleaa

Actually many of them do get if for free they do allow it so the democrats can get more minority votes. Also it is related to this discussion because the person above said illegalls dont get any special treatment in America which is false. Btw, have you been to America? Have you ever lived there, if not than how can you know what you are talking about?

Oct 07, 2013 10:39
12
comment|40421|229037
doubleaa

They are leaving and its going to contiune at a rapid speed. Just look at these new exit/entry visa laws. I believe like Iron man wrote, we will begin to see the mass exodus real numbers in dec to June. This will be the time when many of the foreginers who are not legal, and have no real skills, will begin leaving and not returning because of the new visa laws. Also, I believe the Chinese Government is becoming more arrogant. They dont think they need foreingers anymore. Its not for me to judge or decide if Chinas furture success will be related to foreingers.  However, I do believe China economy will become number 1 by 2016 and they own a lot of gold, oil, land and resources, and to me owning the resources is much more important than having more foreingers, skilled or not skilled. I am also speculating but this is the way I see it.

Oct 06, 2013 10:47
13
comment|40436|33349
CARLGODWIN1983

For me, it's the complete isolation from everybody at home. Skype is the only option that is accessible here, and that is so shit half the time because Microsoft have fced it up like everything else, and the internet here is so rubbish.

Oct 07, 2013 01:06
14
comment|40438|111207
geraldcarmack

I miss my three year old daughter. In my last email from the USA I asked my wife to help me with the paperwork required to attain a type (D) resident visa. My wife in China has not answered my email or sent me a video message this week. The last time I talked to her she seemed miserable about the exchange rate. The exchange rate was a little above eight to one when I married her. The exchange rate is now relaxing around six to one. Paperwork for a visa and the price of a visa has doubled since we have married. I do not get to talk to my daughter unless I send money. The divorce rate in China is also climbing luxuriously into first world economy statistics. http://www.ibtimes.com/chinas-divorce-rate-rises-seventh-consecutive-year-1105053

Oct 07, 2013 08:39
15
comment|41956|231880
Raunchy

if your wife dont get in touch with you in too long she may have divorced you our told the you was killed and she can look for some other man

Dec 09, 2013 21:11
16
comment|40440|262996
expatlife26

I think China is trying to drive out professional expats and leave only esl teachers. Notice how the perception of westerners has changed over the past 5 years from awe and reverence to disdain. They don't want foreigners here managing them and producing things, they want people, especially the kids growing up, to think that foreigners exist only to serve them.

Oct 07, 2013 10:17
17
comment|40482|103576
Nessquick

this is very special insight, and I have to agree with you. Some people are thinking this way already. I met one "lady" working for Amway here. she looks made some nice money and have been invited to the US for some training. Ohh, how she talk about the "laowai" in 5star hotel on the beach, which served her drings for free ... ? reallly, like she enjoyed a lot being served by laowai, but in the bad light, from the superiority view.

Oct 10, 2013 10:51
18
comment|40530|262996
expatlife26

Yeah I really think that's a big part of it. They wanna get rid of the awe the previous generation had for foreign things and an easy way to do that is to make sure that the foreign people that chinese people meet from an early age aren't exactly the most ambitious and successful types. I agree there is something very mean spirited about the attitudes of a lot of the wealthy here. The people here with money generally didn't do anything to earn it...just got their land buyout back when asset prices were low. Paradoxically people who are self-made via hardwork/talent are generally a lot more compassionate than people who had it given to them.

Oct 11, 2013 10:44
19
comment|44173|103576
Nessquick

Good luck back home. hold some place for me. :) I was on the way go back to Czech too, "unfortunately" i got kind of nice job, so I do my work and my wife have more time to ready her mind and her family.

Feb 25, 2014 03:11
20
comment|40450|262996
Guest2366968

Nah they'll never take ESL teachers seriously no matter how they act. Remember how conscious of class and status they are...they honestly can't understand someone who is a good-natured adventurer choosing something other than the highest paying job. All they (generally) see you as is a poor piece of garbage who can't make it at home. In many ways like a foreign migrant worker, even if we don't look at each other that way at all. It's a one-two punch of dislike for ESL teachers. On the one hand you are poor by your own standards and thus worthy of disdain, but on the other hand you likely make a lot more than they do so they feel jealous of how easy life is for you. If you can get out of teaching honestly they'll treat you with way more respect, I speak from my own experience.

Oct 08, 2013 13:09
21
comment|55300|1575268
AladinSane

But who wants the respect of assholes like that?

Feb 01, 2015 23:44
22
comment|40452|268630
Uncle.Guido

There are many reasons foreigners are packing up. The new visa regs that require criminal background checks is one reason. Another is economies back in America and Canada are picking up, and the many scams in China have probably pushed people over the edge. As for me, I still love Chinese food and the local girls, so I will be here another year!

Oct 08, 2013 18:39
23
comment|40457|41839
lightend

I agree, its like building a house. You live in a caravan next to it but move in as soon as possible and leave the tent behind. China was fine to get through the financial problens at home. Now the are getting sorted out its time to go back.

Oct 08, 2013 23:34
24
comment|40485|229037
doubleaa

They are not getting sorted out. The European and American economy is getting ready to colaspe in a few weeks. Where have you been gettng your fax from?

Oct 10, 2013 11:23
25
comment|40533|41839
lightend

my fax are from a fax machine. but my facts are from the increase on jobs available in the UK.

Oct 11, 2013 12:38
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