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The Great Laowai Exodus: Why Foreigners Are Leaving China

Jan 14, 2016 By Trey Archer , eChinacities.com Comments (157)     Add your comment Newsletter

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Beginning in the 1990s, with China steamrolling into the 21st century, foreigners from around the world flocked to the Middle Kingdom for a chance to live the Chinese dream. Soon China became known as the new land of opportunity, and everyone from international bigwig CEOs to those who simply couldn’t find a job back home inundated China.

Recently, though, it seems that the glory days of the past are long gone – “twice as many people [i.e. foreigners] moved out of China than into the country in 2014,” according to a February 2015 Wall Street Journal Blog. And if you thought this was a regional trend, think again. The same article states that twice as many people moved to Japan in 2014, while Singapore and Malaysia’s expat numbers stayed constant. The Great Laowai Exodus has begun, but why?

Fewer Opportunities

Nowadays there aren’t nearly as many job opportunities as there used to be since foreign countries taking a greater slice of China’s pie. With large populations, lower costs, and less bureaucracy, developing places like Vietnam and Indonesia, along with developed countries like the USA, are taking away the numerous manufacturing jobs China used to have. In return, these massive internationals are taking their foreign staff and job openings with them. As outlined by a 2015 Forbes article, “A survey by the Hackett Group consultancy found that 46% of executives at European and North American manufacturing companies said they were considering returning some production to the United States from China.”

Manufacturing isn’t the only sector being affected negatively; other industries are packing their bags as well. Dan Harris from the China Law Blog in a March 2015 piece titled “China’s Golden Age for Foreign Companies Is Over” lists some of the reasons why so many multi-nationals are bouncing. He states that obstacles on market access, higher costs, China’s opaque rule of law, foreign companies being singled out by the government, the sense of some foreign firms not feeling welcomed, along with many other factors, leave companies no other choice but to flee. There is clearly less job opportunity now than there was 10 years ago.

Pollution

Speaking from personal experience and as an asthmatic, this is the number one thing that makes me consider leaving China. Based off data from a 2015 Forbes article, China’s pollution problem is actually improving slightly, making India the new pollution capital of the planet. But even though India is much more polluted than China, the world is more aware of China’s toxic air from documentaries such as “Under the Dome,” mobile phone apps, and the US embassy and consulates listing their own uncensored AQI (air quality index) readings.

Furthermore, many of the health effects from children breathing in air pollution for decades are beginning to surface. By some estimates, China’s pollution related deaths are up to a staggering half a million per year! And this number doesn’t include the deaths from water, food, and other kinds of contamination that are prevalent all over the country. No wonder many expats, especially those with children, are saying zaijian, while those who get job offers to move to China are saying bu yao despite handsome expat packages.

Economic Woes

During the summer of 2015, China’s stock market collapsed. About a third of the A-shares on the Shanghai Stock Exchange were lost within the month of June, and a few aftershocks rocked the economy again on July 27 and August 24. On the first week of trading in 2016, China’s stocks fell more than 7%, causing a circuit breaker to halt trading. China’s economy has also been severely weekend by the yuan’s devaluation, which fell 4% against the dollar within two days in August, and has continued to slide to nearly 6:1 since– reverting back to 2011 levels. China’s GDP has also slowed to 7% in 2015, making even the government declare that the days of 10% growth are over, with 7% becoming the “new normal.”

Another anguish is the rising costs of living. Based on a December 2015 CNBC report, Shanghai and Beijing (and Hong Kong) are all currently ranked in the top 10 of world’s most expensive cities for expats, while Guangzhou and Shenzhen lay in the top 20. If we also take into consideration that a new law requires foreigners to pay a social security tax, that wages aren’t rising nearly enough to keep up with rising costs, and the aforementioned devaluation of the RMB, salaries aren’t a driving force drawing people to China anymore. Instead, it’s pushing people away.

Visa Crackdowns

The BBC covered a story in 2012 about how China has gotten serious about kicking illegal immigrants out of the country. The year after, the Huffington Post wrote of how the PRC was ridding the country of foreign journalist. In 2014, The Globe and Mail reported that China was cracking down on foreign missionaries. Recently, NGOs are even finding themselves expelled from the PRC. This new anti-foreign policy clearly affects the number of expats living in the Middle Kingdom and also deters those wanting to move here.

The government is also raising the bar for foreigners entering the country. A large portion of expats living here are English teachers. Back in the day, anyone who could string a few sentences together could become an English teacher. Not anymore. The new rules require that you’ll need a university degree, a TEFL certificate from a reputable institution, and at least two-years teaching experience. For non-English teachers, new visa regulations state that you need a university degree along with two-years work experience in that particular field. Also, applicants must return to their home country to receive an F visa instead of using an agent, adding another burden on the shoulders of foreigners looking to reside and/or relocate to the Middle Kingdom.

And Many More

The major factors of why foreigners are leaving have been outlined above, but there are several others that add straws to the camel’s back. One is censorship. Let’s be honest, it’s a royal pain in the @$$ using internet in this country. Facebook, Google, reliable news sources, Youtube, and many others are blocked courtesy the CCP. Yes, we can use VPNs to dig a hole under the Great Firewall, but the government has also made it difficult for VPNs to operate recently.

For some, China just isn’t as cool as it used to be. I remember when I first got here in 2008 the country still seemed like such an exotic land. Now, with so much development, parts of the country have lost its charm with massive Nike advertisements, Burberry scarfs and Audis. Even the tourist destinations are fake and plastic. For example, parts of the Shaolin Temple have been bulldozed to make room for more modern structures. For others, the cultural differences (i.e. burping, slurping, cell-phone shouting, pushing and spitting) are just too much to handle, making them want to leave the country for good.

Finally, China isn’t as safe as it used to be. Even though China has the same violent crime rate as France and is still much safer than the United States, crime is on the rise. But something really disturbing expats is increased crime against foreigners. According a January 2015 Beijing Cream article, groups of gangs have been attacking foreigners with bats and metal rods. The gangs are reported to be attacking foreign men with Chinese female friends or girlfriends, but there are other cases of foreigners getting beaten up merely for the sake of being foreign.

If you are an expat who has left or is considering leaving China, please feel free to leave your reasons. We’re curious to hear your thoughts.

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Keywords: foreigners leaving China foreigners in China

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157 Comments ( Add your comment )

1
comment|68087|98319
Spiderboenz

An F visa? For work?! Ummm... No.

Jan 14, 2016 01:26
2
comment|68390|272472
Guest2452248

Yeah, it's definitely not an F Visa. However, new regulations have been implemented as of December 2015. Now, the Foreign Expert Bureau will begin to require authentications by the Chinese embassy or consulate of degrees and TEFL/TESOL. These are a pain in the ass because they must be done in the embassy of the country in which your degree was issued. It also applies to all teachers currently in China, as well as those who wish to be issued a Z Visa in the future. Furthermore, in order to teach English, you will need to be a passport holder of a country in which English is one of the national languages... I'm surprised I have not seen an article on this website about the new rules yet. This will really affect all foreigners currently in China and those who wish to come here.

Jan 20, 2016 11:07
3
comment|68410|1577921
mengke

I did not know about these new rules but wow, I am so happy to hear that there will actually be stricter control on English teachers. No offense to all the good teachers out there, I just have come across way too many foreigners with bad English that supposedly are English teachers. In reality, they want a Chinese visa, decent pay, and minimal work hours. I am a foreigner myself, although not a teacher. These new rules will give much more credibility to all the good teachers out there who get their reputation poisoned by freeloaders.

Jan 20, 2016 21:47
4
comment|68430|1608960
Guest14480640

I agree with you! They need to hire more quality English teachers. I have seem way too many English teachers who need to take courses on English grammar and how to speak proper English themselves.

Jan 21, 2016 12:45
5
comment|68485|1589639
Guest14306758

The rules will easily be bypassed by employers using their guanxi to hire whoever they want, this is China after all. Also there is a good reason why certified teachers avoid China and rather go to Japan, Korea or Vietnam, Chinese employers are infamous for treating foreign teachers like disposable commodities, while in fact we all know the truth is that the demand for foreign teachers in China far outweigh the supply. If China wishes to attract certified and experienced English teachers, it needs to enforce rules, starting with the contracts under which those teachers come to work here. Finally the pay rate in China is ridiculous, I see offers starting at 4000 per month these days, no serious teacher will work for that money, when the base salary in neighboring countries is equivalent to 20kRMB per month, you get what you pay for. All that will happen if China enforces one side of the rules is 90% of the domestic ESL industry collapsing after schools and centers whose business revolves around foreign faces can't find any foreign teacher, this will also put many local Chinese unemployed, not good for harmony.

Jan 24, 2016 23:18
6
comment|68089|43131
Guest388182

crap in the street, racism, ignorance, arrogance, scams, spitting, employers with pre-civil war plantation owner mentalility, ....

Jan 14, 2016 05:41
7
comment|68093|1581472
Guest14233248

Hypocrisy, nihilism, sociopathy, sexism, body odor, two faced, lying, thieving, rigidity, mass regimentation, creativity squashed, refusal to adapt, refusal to change, refusal to modernize, selfishness, communitarianism, no shame. . .and these are their good points.

Jan 14, 2016 08:07
8
comment|68109|307009
kuntmans

Can't wait to see you guys leave. The stench will be that bit better.

Jan 14, 2016 16:02
9
comment|68112|1608960
Guest14480640

Foreigners - playboys, arrogance, lying, body odor, too hairy, can't speak Chinese, don't understand Chinese culture, drunks, like to go to bars and sit by themselves, think there is white privilege in China, pussy whipped sissy boys that don't know they are being taken advantaged of by women, OBESE (AKA FATTIES), he women - women that have lost their femininity and act and look like men, a sense of entitlement, and some of the men are creepy, there's more.

Jan 14, 2016 17:11
10
comment|68132|5289
carlstar

Don't worry, all these horrible foreigners are leaving. It is good not having to see jerks like you again. China for China right. You can keep it but just stay the hell away from the rest of us. You are disgustingly rude people.

Jan 14, 2016 20:20
11
comment|68133|1608960
Guest14480640

Carlstar - good, I'm glad the horrible foreigners are leaving. I hope the good ones come in and the ones in China who are good, I hope they stay. You horrible foreigners are disgusting racist people.

Jan 14, 2016 20:26
12
comment|68141|5289
carlstar

says the racist. No one wants to stay in China.

Jan 14, 2016 21:40
13
comment|68143|1608960
Guest14480640

That's fine, go back to your trailer trash community in America! China doesn't need racist garbage like you.

Jan 14, 2016 21:42
14
comment|68156|43131
Guest388182

Chai Ni Wan Ke

Jan 15, 2016 06:14
15
comment|68182|273557
Chhris

幹嗎那麽討厭外國人? :(

Jan 15, 2016 11:44
16
comment|68183|1608960
Guest14480640

I've met some great expats and some that are not so great. The expats I like are well educated, can speak native level Mandarin Chinese, understand Chinese culture, and have nice careers. : )

Jan 15, 2016 11:53
17
comment|68204|1608960
Guest14480640

Have you ever been to a trailer trash community. It's pretty dirty. The only dirty houses I see in China are the ones expats live in. Asian people actually take off their shoes and put on slippers when they enter houses. You smelly expats don't take off your shoes and enter houses with your dirty nasty shoes.

Jan 15, 2016 13:43
18
comment|68209|1602203
Guest14419830

Nobody cares which expats you like, fool.

Jan 15, 2016 15:06
19
comment|68215|1608960
Guest14480640

Nobody cares about your lies, douchebag.

Jan 15, 2016 17:09
20
comment|68222|1577982
Guest14201844

Although I am Chinese but 100% agree on each and every word was said here hahaha.

Jan 15, 2016 18:57
21
comment|68236|5289
carlstar

i guess you have been to a trailer trash place then because you seem to know them so well. I've never ever seen them before, except for the ones at camping grounds. You sad racist twat

Jan 16, 2016 09:05
22
comment|68250|1581472
GeoHistTeacher

Actually, that is not how it works with a Green Card. You are only issued them if you have family, through a job or refugee status. If a Chinese girl uses a man to get a green card and then skips out, all he has to do is go to the USCIS, file a form and the green card is automatically revoked. Nice try though. As for loyalty: I am 100% loyal to my Chinese wife. Real job: I have one in China and one in the States that makes me plenty of money, enough to buy an apartment here and a six bedroom, five bathroom house on ten acres in Northern Virginia outside of DC. But you keep up with the stereotypes. Xi Jinping and his racist government are proud of you.

Jan 16, 2016 14:23
23
comment|68251|1581472
GeoHistTeacher

I speak fluent Chinese, don't go to bars, couldn't care less about American culture so my interest in Chinese culture is less than zero, couldn't care less about white privilege and married a wonderful girl from a very wealthy family. Nice idiocy in your turd of wisdom.

Jan 16, 2016 14:24
24
comment|68323|1608960
Guest14480640

You speak fluent English jive, you don't go to bars but sit alone in your parents' house drinking hard liquor, you only care about your trailer community, you're married to a fantasy. Nice lies, you little troll.

Jan 18, 2016 17:26
25
comment|68348|1581472
GeoHistTeacher

At the beginning you were entertaining. Now you're just boring. 滚开,装逼.

Jan 19, 2016 07:28
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