How Foreign Students and Workers in China Get Special Treatment

How Foreign Students and Workers in China Get Special Treatment
Sep 29, 2020 By Cian Dineen ,

There’s no doubt that foreigners in China get treated differently to locals. While this can come in the form of discrimination and racism, it’s also true that many foreigners enjoy some favoritism when living in China. Here, I take a take a look at six ways foreign students and workers in China get special treatment.

How Foreign Students and Workers in China Get Special Treatment

Favoritism in the Classroom 

Easier access: It’s fair to say that Chinese students are up against an awful lot when it comes to getting into the country’s top universities. They face intense pressure from family and teachers to get near-perfect marks in the notorious Gaokao college exam and must compete against millions of other students for the limited places available.

Foreign students, however, are not required to take the Gaokao and, relatively speaking, there are significantly more places available. In 2017, China’s top university, Beijing Tsinghua, even controversially scrapped their entrance exam for foreign students altogether.

Some might say that Chinese universities are simply trying to boost their international profiles by enrolling more foreign students. Others point out that Chinese students also attend universities all over the world. But for a Chinese student who just fell short of getting onto their dream university course, the ease with which foreign students can enter China’s top universities no doubt seems pretty unfair. What’s more, many of these students come to China on scholarships or heavily subsidized courses, while Chinese students studying at top overseas universities usually have to pay through the nose to secure a spot.

Better student accommodation: University students hail from all sorts of places, races, religious backgrounds, and social classes, but when at the university, the idea is that they’re all treated the same. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, everyone should enjoy the same benefits and rights.

Yet, when it comes to student accommodation in China, foreigners often get special treatment. They are usually segregated from the local students and offered far superior and less-crowded digs. 

Not only does this discourage international and local students from mixing and sharing in each other’s cultures, it fosters resentment and animosity among local students who see themselves as getting a raw deal. Universities perhaps feel pressure to be more accommodating to foreign students, but it has a largely negative impact on the overall campus morale.

Questionable study partnering: While this kind of special treatment is not exactly widespread, it’s probably the most controversial on the list. Back in 2019, Shandong University landed itself in hot water when it was discovered to be running a “buddy program” whereby male international students were partnered with female Chinese students, with a ratio of three females to one male.

The university apologized and revoked the program, but insisted that it only hoped to encourage the students to “learn culturally and academically” from each other. Regardless of the intentions, the news caused uproar in China, sparking renewed debate on the wider issue of the favoritism enjoyed by foreign students and foreigners as a whole in China.

Favoritism in the Office

Longer annual leave: Now we move from the classroom into the office, where foreigners also enjoy a lot of special treatment. One of the most common areas of difference is in annual leave.

Most Chinese workers typically receive the mandatory national holidays plus additional leave that rarely adds up to more than five days. In some cases, especially during an employee’s first year at a company, local staff receive no annual leave beside the national holidays. Foreign colleagues, on the other hand, are often awarded 10 days or more, straight off the bat.

Expats are typically used to at least four weeks holiday back home, so are often unwilling to accept a job that only offers the Chinese standard. The disparity can be so stark between the holiday allocation of foreign and local staff, however, that it’s not uncommon for HR to instruct expats not to talk about their annual leave with their Chinese colleagues. Even so, it’s a well-known fact that can cause animosity and resentment in the office.

Less overtime: Foreign workers in China really do get a good deal compared to their local counterparts. Not only do they get more holidays, but they also normally work fewer hours.

As we all know, overtime is a big part of life in China. In manufacturing and the tech industries in particular, it’s not unusual for staff to work until 9pm or 10pm every night and also come in on the weekends. While Chinese labor laws dictate that such overtime should be paid at 150% of the base salary, many companies promise to reimburse workers with fat bonuses at Chinese New Year, instead. Whether or not these bonuses compensate workers fairly or, in fact, ever appear is another matter.

While overtime is sometimes expected of all staff, more often than not, foreign workers in China keep more regular office hours, largely because the idea of working unpaid overtime is completely unheard of in their own countries. As a result, they are typically not pressured in the same way as their local colleagues to work beyond the hours of their contracts.

Better health insurance: As if that wasn’t enough, foreign workers in China also tend to enjoy better health benefits than their local counterparts. While most Chinese workers only receive the social insurance to help towards their healthcare costs, foreigners often receive that, plus more.

Many companies will provide their foreign staff with some sort of commercial health insurance, which can be worth as much as RMB40,000 a year, with coverage including both inpatient and outpatient care both inside and outside of China. In you ever find yourself in the position where you need it, this can make a huge difference to your finances.

Again, the reason for this discrepancy is largely because foreign staff, particularly Americans, have come to expect commercial health insurance as a prerequisite to accepting any job. Chinese companies that are desperate to hire foreigners, therefore, will often bend over backwards to accommodate their needs, even if it means furnishing them with benefits they would never dream of awarding to local staff.

Do you agree that foreigners students and workers in China receive special treatment? Tell us how you feel in the comments section below.

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Keywords: foreign workers in China foreign students and workers in China


All comments are subject to moderation by staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate.



local employees are not very friendly when they see that you don't stay overtime

Nov 26, 2020 00:52 Report Abuse



I am a foreign citizen working in a Chinese organisation, and I get exactly the same amount of leave as the Chinese staff. Stop spreading misinformation.

Nov 06, 2020 10:43 Report Abuse



Chinese students study hard in order to get a placement in top universities while foreigners are exempted from entrance exam. I wonder how foreigner survive in the university.

Nov 02, 2020 08:38 Report Abuse



As China top universities started to improve rankings, it has also attracts more and more foreigners.

Nov 01, 2020 07:44 Report Abuse



What seems to be overlooked is that the 'special treatment' here is nothing out of the ordinary in Western countries who, honestly speaking, are much more developed than most of China. No one from the US, UK or Australia in their right mind would take a difficult exam just to go to a Chinese university where they share a dark living space the size of a bedroom with up to seven other people. If you want to attract people from those countries, you HAVE to give them the types of facilities and comforts that are already available back home, otherwise, why would they even bother coming here?

Oct 10, 2020 13:37 Report Abuse



During my days where I did my degree in the UK, foreign students were never give special treatment. Chinese in general are friendly to foreigners.

Sep 30, 2020 10:28 Report Abuse



all come downs to supply and demand really

Sep 29, 2020 13:34 Report Abuse



It is common in Asia, whereby employee are expected to work overtime but not compensated. While Chinese nationality generally work very hard to earn a living especially in first tier cities.

Sep 29, 2020 10:23 Report Abuse