Survival of the Fittest: The Difficulties of Finding a Job as a Foreigner

Survival of the Fittest: The Difficulties of Finding a Job as a Foreigner
Apr 14, 2014 By Margaux Schreurs ,

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

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


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worth reading

Nov 26, 2017 00:01 Report Abuse



I am a writer from Singapore who have been teaching English and writing for over 10 years. I thought I could take my skills to China and do some teaching there but I have got only a single offer so far (at RMB11000) after replying to countless adverts over one and a half month. I also have another offer but they have taken quite some time now to get back to me regarding the visa so I'm half expecting the deal to fall apart any time... Is the situation really that bleak that I will not be able to find a decent paying job that requires English?

Nov 16, 2017 18:06 Report Abuse



Wow! You have to be 24 years old and have 2 years working experience outside of China. Truly Draconian regulations aren't they? In case you can't tell I'm being sarcastic. Very few countries have more relaxed regulations. If the author thinks these are stringent, he really has no clue.

Jul 05, 2017 10:51 Report Abuse



Totally bullshit. Chinese companies only hire the cheapest. They need only cheap labour, same like what Singapore companies did in Singapore. They will accept you even if you are foreign trash as long you are cheap. Even the locals don't want to work for them. Finding a job with salary more than RMB 15000 a month is not possible.

May 12, 2017 02:34 Report Abuse



15000 RMB is about 2200 USD. That is still about 2-3x what most Chinese workers make. And let's get real. Back home a starting salary in most simply not going to be that high.

Jul 05, 2017 11:07 Report Abuse



I do not understand the thinking of some if not all Western people. They complain that Chinese people are willing to work for a lot less in their own country than foreigners. However, in the USA for example, the locals are complaining that foreigners are willing to work for a lot less. Maybe Westerners should accept that this is just Economics 101. The reason many Western businesses established themselves outside of their home countries like the USA is because Western workers always price themselves to far above their market value aside from unreasonable demands by unions. However, once these Western employees become business owners themselves, they begin to understand what market forces mean. Maybe Westerners should be more pragmatic and less whiny and understand that businesses cannot be viable if the salaries are too high per person. They can also start learning to downshift and to be more frugal instead of being narcissistic, materialistic, and self-serving. The reality is having a job nowadays is still better than being jobless. A mentality of gratitude goes a long way.

Feb 15, 2017 12:59 Report Abuse



its easy teach English?? depends your skin color

Feb 11, 2017 09:02 Report Abuse



From what I understand, the accent is more of an issue than the color of the skin. For instance, it is not racist to recognize that African-Americans and caucasian Americans have different "accents". You know this when you talk on the phone without seeing the face. Apparently Chinese find it easier to understand the "white accent". Or perhaps that is just an excuse to cover up racism...

Mar 20, 2017 21:35 Report Abuse



No it doesn't. At my current school there is an African teacher who has been there for five years. True he is from South Africa which makes him a 'native speaker' (under the current rules) but he is as black as I am white.

Jul 05, 2017 11:02 Report Abuse



I respectfully disagree with this comment. You are trying to associate “accents” with ethnic groups or skin color, which is absurd. A person’s accent depends on the place and environment he or she grew up. A person’s accent could be more influenced by the way the people that raised them spoke or their socioeconomic background, than by their ethnic group. Accents have little to no relation to a person’s ethnic group or skin color. An African-American New Yorker and a White-American New Yorker will probably have a very similar English accent. The same way two African-American men from different parts of the states will have a different accent. Example; African-American politician Ben Carson (a native of Detroit) and African-American sport figure Charles Barkley (a native of Alabama) have very different English accents.

Mar 03, 2018 17:26 Report Abuse



In China looks, ethnicities, and skin colors are all issues when looking for a job. I have seen Chinese-Americans (born and raise in the USA) being deprived of jobs as English teachers because “they look Asian”. The same way I have seen white looking Slavs with a poor English level being hired for English teaching jobs simply because they are white and blonde (I mean, nothing against Slavs but you can see there’s a problem here). Anyway looks, ethnicities, and skin colors affecting recruitment process is not solely a “China problem”, it also happens in other parts of the world.

Mar 03, 2018 17:33 Report Abuse



Non-Natives of English, Spanish, French , German , Italian, have 0 chance ! I am one of them...

Jan 03, 2016 12:38 Report Abuse



I not hateful toward the white guys and the privilege they get here in China. White guys you win again, take a bow. To my fellow POC just some advice. If you see an ad saying Native speakers from USA, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland. Don't apply its a waste a time that is a code word for white. If you see them over zealously asking for a photo with no mention of credentials don't apply its a code for whites only. Be patient agents don't work so well for POC but going directly to a school especially if you have a high enough level of conversational Chinese works wonders. I've had multiple jobs and rather counterintuitively its from schools ran by drum roll white guys. I think they realize its not a color thing its a can you get the job done thing and this of course is a matter of individual talent and personal aptitude not race. Cheers to my white friends ride the train until the wheels fall off. Sidenote: I don't stand for racism and that may only be because I'm black. I don't know.

May 28, 2014 18:21 Report Abuse



And for fellow white native-English teachers: please don't support/work for schools whose hiring practices are clearly racist and bigoted.

Jul 29, 2015 16:42 Report Abuse



After looking for a job in here, I found out the biggest problem isn't about your incompetence. But the unreasonable and sometimes crazy demand on China's job ads. For example: looking for fresh graduate, min 8 years of experience (wtf ??). looking for fresh graduate, working visa is required (lol?), etc.

May 20, 2014 16:33 Report Abuse



Exactly!!! What on earth are all these job ad postings that "require" more 5,6 or 8 years work experience, yet are suppose to have been fresh graduates or someone with "ideally" that many years of "related" work experience?!?! And how does one (young foreign graduate) find any "related" work to "gain" the related experience, in order to "qualify" to get that position??? Well, I suppose you could just "fake it" and walk into an interview, then hold your ground and assert yourself, regardless if you have very few years of experience, but I cannot gaurantee what results you'll get. Might be worth a try though... "fresh graduate, 8 years experience"...really!?! LOL!

May 28, 2014 02:13 Report Abuse



It is because of the new rule about native speakers coming only from the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Africa. However, there are some schools who hire white people from other countries.

Feb 15, 2017 13:15 Report Abuse



This is true. I believe the "Expert Certificate" will be withheld from a non-native speaker though. And the quality of the institutions accepting non-native speakers is lower. Besides, I have listened to many, many non-natives who teach English from around the world -- I would not want them teaching my children English!

Mar 20, 2017 21:19 Report Abuse



With regards to the visa regulations currently in place in China: If one wants to teach English in China would you need 2 years teaching experience outside china or general work experience? I am a professional architect (with a Masters degree)with about 2 year part time and 1 year full time architectural work experience in South Africa. Will I qualify for a visa to teach English in China?

Apr 20, 2014 02:55 Report Abuse



Most probably you will qualify if you have a bachelor's degree in any course as long as you look white. My main misgiving about this rule is the reality that educational theories, teaching techniques and strategies, and lesson planning are all needed in teaching, especially if one teaches at the lower levels. Having a degree in education and also enough teaching experience are of great value to the teacher of non-native speakers of English. You cannot lecture to preschool, elementary, and high school kids like what you do in college. On the other hand, just having games without a purpose does not cut it either. I say these things as a licensed teacher with a degree in education.

Feb 15, 2017 13:13 Report Abuse



well not all of them... .

Apr 19, 2014 19:30 Report Abuse



Chinese speak awful English and their is no way they are better for any job which requires spoken or written English. Their grammar is also poor. The public schools are still using Chinese teachers to teach Chinglish which is a crime against the English language. Even the private English learning centres are using Chinese, with poor English, to teach English. No progress there ! Their awful communication skills is another reason why they deseerve a much lower salary.

Apr 17, 2014 13:43 Report Abuse



It figures that you would have grammatical and spelling errors even within such simple sentences while spouting such nonsensical generalities about the grammar of Chinese English speakers and the qualifications of Chinese English teachers. Some of them are much more qualified than the vast majority of English teachers who get hired from abroad. Do under-qualified teachers get hired? Yes: Chinese, English, American, and every other nationality. I honestly find more serious problems with many of my fellow American/British/etc. teachers who get hired. They have often not taught before, or just view teaching English is a way of being paid to stay on permanent vacation.

Jul 29, 2015 16:36 Report Abuse



Yes, I did make a few errors which were made while I was in haste. It seems, however, that your pathetic comments regarding foreign English teachers is somewhat absurd and inappropriate since it is not the behaviour of foreign teachers I am talking about here but, rather, the ability to speak and teach correct English. Take your poor attitude and defense of Chinese English (Chinglish) teachers to the garbage where it belongs. Try to make pleasant responses to comments instead of arrogant, ignorant comments.

Dec 02, 2016 11:27 Report Abuse



I agree with "mdsearth" -- it is unfortunate that he made one grammatical error. I am an English teacher, have traveled extensively, and the English I have encountered here is about the worst I have heard and read in my life. This is after some of my students have studied English for at least 7 years. They do not learn.

Mar 20, 2017 21:12 Report Abuse