The end of the golden era for expats in China?

According to the South China Morning Post, some expats say that rising living costs, a move towards hiring locals and new visa rules in particular are making life on the mainland harder for foreigners. For example: There has been an increasingly negative attitude from the Chinese government towards expats and foreign workers with the string of visa changes over the past few years (along with government posters earlier this year warning locals against falling in love with strangers from overseas).

With the latest working-visa change that came into force this month for foreigners in selected provinces and will see expats given an A, B or C rating depending on work experience, language abilities and education, one expat (who has been in China for nine years) observed:

“As a foreigner who has been here for a long time and is quite well-established, these changes tend to have much less impact. By being well established here, one is accustomed to the Chinese ways and better able to be malleable and find a way around the changes, legal or otherwise.”

A China-Britain Business Council director was also quoted as saying that the visa moves were about clamping down on low-skilled employment and making sure foreigners coming to the country could make a contribution: “They’re just part of a natural process that China’s going through of concentrating – perhaps more explicitly than before – on attracting high-quality international talent in relevant industries.”

Finally, another expat who had first come to China 18 years ago, observed:

“Back in 1997 it was like the Wild West. It was like that bar in Star Wars – everyone was a freak of some sort. You had such extreme characters. Everyone there was either looking for something or running from something, or had a damn good reason for being in Beijing in those days. Now there are hordes of young foreigners getting off the plane every day.”

He added that since the economy had slowed, companies were not throwing “silly money at China and hoping it comes right later” as “they were blinded and seduced by the size of the economy… I think now it’s a lot more rational.” Nevertheless, he is still seeing plenty of young foreigners turning up as excited as he was as a fresh university graduate back in 1997 when he first arrived in China.

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