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China's promise lures grads home

Students educated abroad find opportunity – and a lifestyle similar to what they had overseas.

By / staff Writer / December 2, 2010



Beijing

Dressed in a demure lace-frilled blouse and a sensible midcalf skirt, sipping a cup of Starbucks tea, Guo Yixin could be an ambitious young executive almost anywhere.

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The fact that she is in Beijing, though, is testament to a trend that promises to transform Chinese business: Chinese students with foreign college degrees are coming home in ever greater numbers.

Some are drawn by the new opportunities that China's rapidly expanding economy is opening up to highly educated, internationally minded young people.

"This is where things are happening," says Ms. Guo.

Alternatives?

Others find themselves with few alternatives to returning home, as countries such as the United States, Australia, and Britain tighten up immigration laws and make it harder for foreign students to stay on.

"I couldn't get permanent residence, so I decided to come back," explains Rao Monong, who had hoped to get a job as a reporter in Australia after finishing her journalism master's at the University of Sydney.

Either way, after 30 years of relentless brain-drain, more and more Chinese are becoming "sea turtles," as they are known here, choosing to come home when they are done with their studies. Some 44,000 came back in 2007, according to Education Ministry figures. Last year, that figure jumped to 108,000.

Fewer Chinese students going abroad

Since 1978, when Chinese students were first allowed to go abroad, about 1.3 million of them have done so. In the past, nearly three-quarters of them would stay away and find work outside China, but that proportion is now dropping.

Among those returning home after their studies are some scientific researchers tempted by special programs the Chinese government has set up to fund their work and pay them better salaries. Others have taken advantage of the Beijing muni­cipal government's offer of temporary accommodation, tax breaks on cars, and priority access to a prized city residence permit.

Most, though, are coming back simply because today there are enough jobs to match their skills.

"There are more foreign companies in China and more Chinese companies doing international business," says Zong Wa, head of the China Education Association for International Exchange, a group affiliated with the Education Ministry. "That creates more and more opportunities for people who have been abroad for a while," he says.

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