Apr 14, 2014 By Margaux Schreurs , eChinacities.com

Newcomers to China are not having the easy and relaxed job-finding experience that they may have heard of. Times are changing in China, and although there is still an abundance of work to be found for foreigners in some sectors (mainly in the education sector), the overall experience may not necessarily link up with expectations.

Finding a job in China
Photo: ftdata.co.uk

There are several reasons for this, namely improving education in China, the increasing number of Chinese students studying abroad and coming back (“haigui”), returning Overseas Chinese (“huaqiao”), as well as changes in visa regulations and consequences for employers.

Education in China

Throughout the country, education levels are improving rapidly, especially evident in the bigger cities. There is also an increasing number of Chinese middle and high school students with good English, as well as growing numbers of students attending universities throughout the entire country. 

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics states that tertiary education enrolment among the general eligible population has increased from 3% to 30% between 1991 and 2011. On top of this, adult (15 years old and above) literacy has risen from 77.8% of the total population in 1990 to 94.6% in 2011, also evening out between both genders. With education levels and the quality of China’s labour force at a peak, competition for foreigners coming to find work has never been fiercer.

Haigui returning

On top of this, more and more Chinese students are going to study abroad, with numbers still increasing every year. The Open Doors Report from the Institute of International Education for the 2012/2013 school year shows that China sent 235,597 students to study in the United States last year, making China the country that has sent most students to the United States, followed by India and then South Korea. The number of Indians that went, in comparison, was 96,754.

The data for China between 2012 and 2013 also marks an increase of 21 percent from the 2011/2012 school year, when 194,029 Chinese students went study in the United States.

These students have had the opportunity to improve their foreign language skills, interact in a more international environment, as well as gain an understanding of international cultures. Many of them are also attending some of the United States’ best colleges. This makes them much more competitive on the job market.

Huaqiao returning

The same goes for Overseas Chinese returning to China. They not only often speak great Chinese and English, but also have a deep understanding of both cultures. This means they have the ability to be the perfect bridges between Western and Chinese cultures within foreign or local companies, making them incredibly employable throughout all sectors.

Visa regulations

Of course, visa regulations are making it tough for foreigners to find jobs. In order to ensure that Chinese graduates are not competing against foreigners, the government has made it increasingly difficult to get a working visa.

As of right now, you have to be 24 years old and have at least two years of working experience outside of China when applying for a working visa after you have been offered a job. This stringency is increasing every year and is also in line with how other governments treat Chinese graduates abroad (for example, Chinese students graduating from the United Kingdom now have to return home within three months unless they find a job, as opposed to the two years they were granted in the past).

There is also the increasing cost for a company in China to sponsor a foreigner. For them, it is a lot cheaper, and easier, to hire a local, than to have to deal with these visa regulations when trying to hire a foreigner for a job. Many companies also have a limit to how many foreign employees they are allowed to sponsor.


In reality, the combination of all the above factors is what makes it hard for foreigners to find work at the moment. Foreigners in China are competing with an extremely talented pool of Chinese labor, as well as large numbers of returning Overseas Chinese and haigui.

Adding the increasing visa stringencies to this list of competition, it is easy to see why finding a job outside of the education sector is no longer easy. However, as China still has a long way to go towards a population whose largest proportion speak English, there is a pretty decent chance that foreigners will be able to come to China and work as English teachers, generally with decent wages and under good conditions, for the foreseeable future.

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Keywords: finding a job in China difficulties of finding job in china

54 Comments Add your comment



Umm, It may be true that foreigners are having a harder time finding jobs in China. But I reject the author's premise that the Chinese are well educated and talented. This article fails to mention the most obvious reasons why foreigners have a hard time finding jobs outside of English education. 1) Chinese are willing to work for a lot less. 2) racism (ethnocentrism), For example, working in finance or accounting. The Chinese do not want a foreigner controlling their books, they'd rather hire their unqualified cousin because no Chinese boss wants to reveal their "private" life as well as their true economic standing. Nice work echinacities! Yellow journalism, once again to try and make China appear stronger than it is. An English common phrase, "Threats are only as good as their preceding reputation."

Apr 14, 2014 07:43 Report Abuse



That says it all. > 1) Chinese are willing to work for a lot less... So many people, so many unqualified, that bosses love because cheaper is always better and easier to push around.

Apr 14, 2014 11:11 Report Abuse



All of those factors may be true, but the biggest barrier to working for a Chinese company is the language. Unless you are quite fluent in spoken and written Mandarin (Putonghua), you are somewhat of a liability since you always need a translator/interpreter. That requires two people to do the job of one.

Apr 18, 2014 10:18 Report Abuse



It's all down to the fact that they just don't want us here. Not because they have better candidates amongst their own.

Apr 14, 2014 09:58 Report Abuse



It's quite easy to teach English in China whether in schools or tutoring centers and I've been here 6 years working continuously.

Jan 16, 2016 11:15 Report Abuse



The author did state that jobs in the education industry abound. That being said, just because you can easily find work as a teacher, it doesn't mean that you are "wanted".

Mar 20, 2017 20:54 Report Abuse



According to the STATSTICS, China is doing great! On PAPER, at least. It LOOKS GOOD, so, mission accomplished. Respect the PAPER tiger's authoritah! I'm working in China for my family, and if it wasn't for them, I'd want to work in this country just as much as Chinese want me to work here.

Apr 14, 2014 11:38 Report Abuse



I know a lot of Germans in China. They work doing engineering and machinery. In their businesses the management has to be half and half or else they will walk out. The problem is not the Chinese are incapable, but that the Chinese management wants to cut corners to save money. The German management do not want that because it will mean a cheap and inferior product. The problem, as I see it, is the Chinese wanting to cut corners all the time. Why pay a great worker 20,000 a month when you can pay two local ones 6,000 each?

Apr 14, 2014 12:12 Report Abuse



In my previous life, my company decided they would save money by out-sourcing to China, and therefore save money. The reality was further than the truth. The work had to be checked more than twice and re-sent to be completed correctly, and deadlines were missed, thus costing more in the long-run. The company then decided to keep the work within Europe to ensure quality and on-time deliveries.

Apr 14, 2014 12:18 Report Abuse



The translation industry is wrought with examples of sacrificing quality to cut costs. Poor translations are everywhere in China! In seemingly every industry!

Mar 20, 2017 21:00 Report Abuse



a bit harsh, but i would say there is an element of truth. But many of the ESL teachers i have met here, especially at public schools, are professional and dedicated teachers, not skirt-chasers.

Apr 14, 2014 13:25 Report Abuse



Just a correction, it's not immigration that requires the BA/BS degree. It's the labor department also known as the FEC department (Nickname).

Apr 14, 2014 14:20 Report Abuse



As a correction to your post, there are two main routes for foreigners to get permission to work in the PRC. One is through the labor Supervision Bureau who administer work permits and the other is through SAFEA who administer Foreign Expert Certificates. There is no "FEC" department at the Labor Supervision Bureau.

Apr 14, 2014 14:51 Report Abuse



maybe your thing is a bit of jewish skirt

Apr 14, 2014 15:03 Report Abuse



Dont know why they down voted you...I have to work all the way in songjiang because these schools refuse to hire qualified individuals...They only hire whites...degree or not. Now the new thing is hiring as interns and paying them under the table.

Apr 16, 2014 04:07 Report Abuse



I've met and interiew dozens, maybe hundreds, of foreign teachers in my 5 years here in China. About 1% think they are gods. The rest are just looking for work.

Apr 18, 2014 10:22 Report Abuse



i completely agree with this. i am a foreigner and i completely agree, the employers usually look for fair skin and blonde hair. most of the time. not all the time most..

Apr 19, 2014 19:26 Report Abuse



...And don't forget those that want to get their foot in the "door" of other industries or fields not related to ESL (i.e. those teachers with degrees or backgrounds in Marketing, Management, HR, etc.) ;-)

May 28, 2014 02:01 Report Abuse




Apr 14, 2014 16:56 Report Abuse



I recently started work in a university and I am surprised that kids of 14 years are already completing their A levels within a year, AP as well. By 16' they will be in some uni in the UK or US. The pressure on them is tremendous and sometimes I see them struggling to understand. Their English is fairly good for a Chinese but still not enough to unravel concepts in Economics, Physics and Chemistry. Teachers here are also under a lot of pressure to delver classes to fit the tight teaching timetable. I'm not sure if these kids understand what they are studying. Mostly they are studying by rote. How are these kids able to finish uni overseas the come back and take over key positions in companies? It just doesn't make any sense at all.

Apr 14, 2014 19:32 Report Abuse



If the Chinese students who are completing A levels or AP at very young age, how can you assume "I'm not sure if these kids understand what they are studying. Mostly they are studying by rote." As far as I know A levels exams are not managed by Chinese universities or governments. Therefore, in this case you can't blame the substandard Chinese Education System (as mentioned countless times on this forum). The only logical conclusion from your statement is that even western universities are favoring the Chinese students and that these exams can also be passed by rote study. So, what's the difference between the Great Western Education Standards and a substandard Chinese education system?

Apr 15, 2014 14:26 Report Abuse



Let's put it this way, if western unis turn away Chinese students, how much revenue is lost? So I am sure standards are bent to accept these students they can pay obscene amounts just to get in. So you see, western unis are also in the business of making money. It's not just about standards. And you are incorrect that A levels are not managed by Chinese unis or government. I can only assume that you have not been to any Chinese uni yet. I work in one.

Apr 15, 2014 19:05 Report Abuse



It means that money does talk whether it's China or West. I am wondering how much of these standards can be bent with an increasing influx of Chinese students every year. And by the management of A level exams , I meant about the curriculum and examination system.

Apr 16, 2014 10:50 Report Abuse



Yes, curriculum for A levels and AP are managed by the UK and the US respectively. Overseas students pay huge amounts to get a place in unis across Europe and the US and this is an important revenue source for them.

Apr 16, 2014 12:40 Report Abuse



Be honest If you a white guy and you are from USA,Britain,Australia,New Zealand. You can always find a teaching job here in China.

Apr 14, 2014 21:55 Report Abuse