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

Posted 2014-4-15

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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