The Great Laowai Exodus: Why Foreigners Are Leaving China

The Great Laowai Exodus: Why Foreigners Are Leaving China
Jan 14, 2016 By Trey Archer , eChinacities.com

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.

Warning:The use of any news and articles published on eChinacities.com without written permission from eChinacities.com constitutes copyright infringement, and legal action can be taken.

Keywords: foreigners leaving China foreigners in China

133 Comments

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1

SenseiSteve
comment|74245|305724

Humm, a lot of interesting comments on this particular topic. For me, no country is perfect. There's good and bad everywhere, China is no exception. I'm sure that most of the foreigners in China came here for similar reasons as I have done, to find work as an ESL teacher and experience a culture different to the ones we grew up in. However, after several years here. You begin to understand that China isn't what you thought it would be. Yes, there are a few people here who are utterly hospitable and welcoming. But that's a small proportion, most people here are rude, obnoxious and downright idiotic. I don't hate China, as a country it's full of history, culture and some stunning scenery but the people make it unbearable. Defecating in the street, spitting, littering (if you love China why do you litter?) and complete disregard for the rules. I won't mention them all because you know what I'm talking about. The Chinese people want change, but aren't willing to contribute to that change they desperately want. Most foreigners are leaving because they want to experience new countries and meet new people, or maybe they got homesick and returned home. But as a native of the UK, I have a tremendous chance to travel all over the world teaching English and being able to meet a variety of different people. Why just settle in one place? There's a whole world out there waiting to be discovered.

Jul 18, 2017 11:27 Report Abuse

2

Guest743842
comment|69117|82649

After reading the entire comment section of this article I have found a new level of disappointment in people.

Feb 24, 2016 10:28 Report Abuse

3

Foreigndevil
comment|69035|1616916

In my 15 years in China about 95% of the visitors leave within 1-2 years. Why? well its easy. Staying in China takes a special person. As far as visas go. That is a nightmare. I married a local and now I can stay on family. I don't like working for anyone anyway I am my own boss and do work abroad but online so :P

Feb 22, 2016 23:18 Report Abuse

4

Guest14191364
comment|68702|1576818

This guy is not chinese,he is obviously a foreigner who hates himself and everyone else, he has no life and gets his kicks by dishing out the insults which are usually served to him. So he is basically the most fooked up person on here. Chinese people do not use pharses or words like he has used in his messages however good their English may be.

Jan 31, 2016 01:34 Report Abuse

5

Guest2503130
comment|68490|278125

As with anything related to and controlled by market forces, a change in net movement of expats is at the same time both a reflection of changing economic times in China AND the relative merits and disadvantages to being there. From what I have observed, there is now a tendency of a more distinct split into two groups among foreign teachers: 1) Those are are well and truly "settled" in China with wife/husband/kids and who would not be able to or be willing to relocate back to their homeland as they are now too estranged from the Western way of life and 2) Those who "try China" for 1 or 2 max years and then make the move back home or to other countries to "move on" with their life. Group 1 tend to be older and tend to have worked their way up in China whilst the upward mobility opportunities were still rich and plentiful (the gold rush days), whilst group 2 are more recent graduates simply seeking a new life experience. It seems that the "good" (read: proper benefits incl fully paid holidays and free child tuition) international schools are now increasingly only interested in category 1 for fear of the risks involved with category 2 in terms of contract breaches, loss of face towards parents (read: customers). However, there are two other groups the good Chinese schools are also now increasingly interested in. One is the Chinese overseas returnee, for reasons of cheap labour and also bilingual language skills. The other is the established Western, qualified teacher who is lured by generous expat packages and perks, usually with much better savings potential than the equivalent they would get back home even after years of experience. What Chinese international schools don't realise, however, is that an extra few hundred bucks isn't going to compensate for hazardous AQI values throughout most of the year or the general lower environmental quality than these kinds of professionals are accustomed to. But then again that kind of compensation thinking is precisely the Chinese model of development that places money over everything else. No wonder than that schools lose face when privileging this "high calibre" kind of expat and they leave after a year or so (in most cases probably sooner)... My guess is the Chinese returnees will increasingly replace expensive and unpredictable foreign teachers as the expertise range amongst Chinese graduates increases. I guess this will also be reflected in CCP visa policies in future, in order to privilege a Chinese national for a job over a foreigner if the former is available.

Jan 25, 2016 00:34 Report Abuse

6

Guest14241886
comment|68389|1582431

Racism, cheating and piles of strange local rules and visa complications. Racism not only to black but also to white people - what to say of mixed couples! And discrimination in all ways. Against international rules.

Jan 20, 2016 09:58 Report Abuse

7

Guest14480640
comment|68396|1608960

If you go to Africa, you will see that there is racism towards whites and many nonblacks! Racism is an issue all around the world.

Jan 20, 2016 14:01 Report Abuse

8

AhmadKoudrah
comment|68398|1583580

The subject here is China ! why deflect blame and point fingers ? no one said africa is better than China, in fact most african countries r worse than china. Still that's not the point.

Jan 20, 2016 14:46 Report Abuse

9

Guest14480640
comment|68403|1608960

If your company sent you to Africa, would you go there? Would you learn their language? Would you go out at night? Would you venture out in town in groups?

Jan 20, 2016 16:30 Report Abuse

10

Guest14480640
comment|68428|1608960

REPECT IS EARNED NOT GIVEN!!!!!!

Jan 21, 2016 12:11 Report Abuse

11

RandomGuy
comment|68486|1589639

Wish more Chinese would learn that respect is earned through one's actions and not commanded upon others, I see enough "I have money, respect me!" around here, what a shitty mindset.

Jan 24, 2016 23:34 Report Abuse

12

kuntmans
comment|68386|307009

China will do well out of the purge of laowai's who brought little or no real value to the society.

Jan 20, 2016 06:59 Report Abuse

13

RiriRiri
comment|68423|281533

Hahaha yeah sure. 3 years after: crying and whining to get "high talented experts" in because returnees can't do shit while aforementioned experts have kind of figured they're only going to be treated with respect for as long as someone needs something out of them. Which is not how it works. Doing great so far.

Jan 21, 2016 08:10 Report Abuse

14

RandomGuy
comment|68488|1589639

Chinese returnees have proven their incompetence countless times. I worked with quite a few of them and these are some of the most arrogant, entitled all the while being apathetic and incompetent people I have ever met. "I studied in Oxford, I am someone important" while messing up a simple task. Bitch please.

Jan 24, 2016 23:46 Report Abuse

15

Guest14480640
comment|68493|1608960

American millennials are not arrogant and entitled? American millennials are not apathetic and incompetent? All the millennials I've met in American have "special little snowflake syndrome."

Jan 25, 2016 04:40 Report Abuse

16

RandomGuy
comment|68501|1589639

Maybe, but I am not American so I don't know. Typical Chinese reaction: "Hold on, do you mean that not every foreigners are Americans? How can it be?" LOL

Jan 25, 2016 11:47 Report Abuse

17

Guest14480640
comment|68503|1608960

Special snowflake - A member of that newly-adult, me'er-than-me generation which expects attention and praise just for being themselves -- doing anything to deserve it is completely optional. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=special+snowflake

Jan 25, 2016 12:36 Report Abuse

18

Guest2693128
comment|68371|299236

I am American, I've been in China for over 15 years. Shenzhen used to be the greatest city in the world for about 10 years. I speak fluent Chinese, and can also read and write quite a bit. Over the past five years I have seen the China I love disintegrate into a China I dislike. The people who know me directly still treat me with the same respect and admiration as they always have in the past. Although, over the last five years prejudice has grown exponentially to the point that I cannot tolerate it anymore. Chinese food which used to be good in Shenzhen is now ridiculously bad unless you spend over 100 RMB per person. For those prices I prefer to eat steak and sushi. The big elephants in the room that nobody wants to talk about, however, make anyone's future in China very scary and unpredictable. 1. The completely unsustainable housing price with its 70 year lease that is in fact similar to slavery. 2. There are 30 million Chinese men who will never have Chinese wives because there are not enough women. That number is seven times larger than any army on the planet. If you were told as a man that you would never own a house, you would never have a wife, and you would probably always have a horrible job, what would you do? Better to leave now before there is "No Escape!" Watch the movie!

Jan 19, 2016 18:15 Report Abuse

19

Guest2693128
comment|68370|299236

I am American, I've been in China for over 15 years. Shenzhen used to be the greatest city in the world for about 10 years. I speak fluent Chinese, and can also read and write quite a bit. Over the past five years I have seen the China I love disintegrate into a China I dislike. The people who know me directly still treat me with the same respect and admiration as they always have in the past. Although, over the last five years prejudice has grown exponentially to the point that I cannot tolerate it anymore. Chinese food which used to be good in Shenzhen is now ridiculously bad unless you spend over 100 RMB per person. For those prices I prefer to eat steak and sushi. The big elephants in the room that nobody wants to talk about, however, make anyone's future in China very scary and unpredictable. 1. The completely unsustainable housing price with its 70 year lease that is in fact similar to slavery. 2. There are 30 million Chinese men who will never have Chinese wives because there are not enough women. That number is seven times larger than any army on the planet. If you were told as a man that you would never own a house, you would never have a wife, and you would probably always have a horrible job, what would you do? Better to leave now before there is "No Escape!" Watch the movie!

Jan 19, 2016 18:15 Report Abuse

20

Guest14458772
comment|68331|1606530

I love fucking china !

Jan 18, 2016 21:21 Report Abuse

21

Guest14306758
comment|68487|1589639

Me too, those girls are so nice, they really do enjoy the big waiguo dongdong.

Jan 24, 2016 23:39 Report Abuse

22

umzung
comment|68314|1578984

More work for me then.

Jan 18, 2016 14:52 Report Abuse

23

ironman510
comment|68309|17779

Haven't really felt or seen any of this in Shenzhen, have seen the markets and new visa laws, but the illegals still come, I saw cook from the a hotel land a job as a teacher, so sick, so I all is the same as it was 7 years ago.

Jan 18, 2016 13:20 Report Abuse

24

shangguanruien
comment|68306|1605444

I could put up with the occasional bout with food poisoning, the cold showers, the internet censorship, and the pissing and chitting in public, but they crossed the line when they tried to convince me that "most of people can teach [ESL] because it is not a very professional subjest." Well, teaching ESL is a profession to me. And what does that say about the schools that share this line of thinking? Anyway, I'm not just another generic, native speaker of the English language. I majored in TESL, so I don't have to put up with the chit. I can go home, or I can go elsewhere to teach. And I can join a circus if I want to be an entertainer.

Jan 18, 2016 10:53 Report Abuse

25

Guest14514706
comment|68297|1612745

While it's my dream to live in China, the pollution is one of the main doubts about moving there. There are some multi-national companies that pay employees bonuses to live in China, since so many of their employees have been hesitant to breathe the smog.

Jan 18, 2016 08:21 Report Abuse