Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Returned Chinese find streets not paved with gold [Xinhua]


Xinhua: Returning Chinese and their challenges with employment back home. For many Chinese studying here in Australia that I know, returning home does not always make the most economic sense. Filial piety usually motivates their return despite the changing landscape of opportunity.

‘According to China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the number of returned overseas Chinese had reached 632,200 by the end of 2010, and it will increase by some 300,000 by the end of 2015.’

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Returned Chinese find streets not paved with gold
By Yuan Quan
Source – Xinhua, published March 27, 2012

BEIJING, March 27 (Xinhua) — Zhao Jia is among the growing number of returned overseas Chinese who have studied abroad but are struggling to secure a decent job in their homeland.

A 26-year-old recent graduate of a masters course from Britain’s University of Sheffield, she has found herself back in Beijing working for a government-backed public institution for about 5,000 yuan (about 790 U.S. dollars) per month.

Zhao resorted to accepting the job offer after a frustrating spell looking for something better upon her return to China.

Her situation and earnings fall way short of the career development and security she dreamed of as an undergrad working hard and spending big for a qualification that she thought would be the ticket to a good professional life back home. Studying abroad for one year cost Zhao 150,000 yuan. On her current salary, it will be at least 30 months before she can earn that back.

Zhao is caught in a modern trend of foreign-qualified graduates struggling to launch careers in a China that doesn’t value their experience the way it used to. With more and more Chinese gaining education overseas, such grads are no longer so prized. Recent research illustrates both the pressure on the job market from returning overseas Chinese and how low starting salaries are bringing into question the worth of expensive foreign education.

Results from a poll for the Ministry of Education revealed in January that the average entry-level salary of returned overseas Chinese is about 3,000 yuan a month. About 43 percent get less than 5,000 yuan, and only 18 percent earn 10,000 yuan or more.

“I sent my resume to more than 30 companies or organizations, but half of them turned me down,” says Zhao, who was aiming for a monthly salary of around 8,000 yuan and open to working in many different fields when she returned to China in 2010.

The companies that made her an offer refused her wage demands. “I think that was due to my lack of relevant professional work experience,” guesses Zhao, who majored in environmental engineering but had only ever worked as a waitress.

Her observation is echoed in the poll, which showed that 49 percent of returned overseas job seekers go home immediately after acquiring a degree, without gaining experience in their chosen field.

Study leaves little time to apply for jobs or internships, of course. Zhao says most of her fellow students stayed in the laboratory for weeks, doing experiments day and night.

Besides, the high unemployment rate in Europe has made employers even less likely to offer opportunities to overseas students. “Many jobs are only given to those who have an EU passport,” Zhao complains.

Turn the clock back 20 years, Zhao would have been a hot commodity in China’s job market. In the 1990s, most in the country regarded studying or working abroad as “acquiring gilt,” which would bring wealth and admiration.

In those early stages of China’s reform and opening-up, few Chinese could speak foreign languages, let alone glimpse what was going on outside the long-closed country. Most returning overseas Chinese, on the other hand, who had picked up advanced Western educations, values and technologies, could use foreign languages smoothly at work and share their rare global vision with their employers.

When foreign experience was rare, the doors were open for returned Chinese to command high salaries or start their own businesses. But times have changed.

“Today, language competence no longer gives you that competitive edge in the workplace,” says Ma Jian, a psychologist and human resources expert with Beijing Normal University. “Job recruiters have higher demands.”

According to China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the number of returned overseas Chinese had reached 632,200 by the end of 2010, and it will increase by some 300,000 by the end of 2015. “Intense competition among them is to be expected,” Ma points out.

In this crowded job market, interviewers check not just for language skills, but also for qualifications and professional achievements, according to the psychologist, who adds, “Many bosses refuse returned overseas applicants as ‘they can do nothing, except speak English.'”

Li Sheng, a legal advisor for a private enterprise, agrees. He tells Xinhua that returned overseas job seekers are employed by his enterprise if they are capable of working hard and fitting in with the company’s ethos, and language competence is not a primary concern.

Forces making language skills less of a factor in the hiring process also include the improvement of local graduates in this area. On average, Chinese mainland applicants taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language in 2008 scored 78.

Zhao Jia says her colleagues without overseas experience have no problems using English at work.

However, many Chinese employees resent their returned overseas colleagues using English, which may be perceived as showing off, rather than communicating in their native tongue, Ma warns.

Similarly, he says, “Returned employees like to complain that domestic working conditions are worse than abroad, moaning that ‘Chinese entrepreneurs like paternal recruitment while foreign companies stress self-actualization and respect for employees.'”

Such attitudes can come off as patronizing and not stand candidates in good stead. For evidence, just look at the job interview video that became notorious when it was posted online recently. In the clip, seemingly filmed live, a returned overseas job seeker was criticized by the host when saying “big change in China,” instead of “in our country.”

The worry that some returned overseas Chinese still consider themselves superior foreigners is reflected in the Ministry of Education poll. Sixty-six percent of respondents said they didn’t identify with the culture of the enterprises with which they are employed, and 29 percent prefer to communicate with people with experience overseas.

“That weak point would easily lead them to be discriminated against,” Ma notes.

In order to decrease unnecessary misunderstandings and increase the chances of being employed, Ma suggests that returned overseas job seekers keep a low profile when being interviewed, and accustom themselves to the domestic workplace, taking care to avoid showing off.

“Employers are more cautious when they recruit a new member. But those of real learning are still welcomed by the market,” he summarizes.

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Filed under: Chinese Model, Chinese overseas, Domestic Growth, Economics, Education, Mapping Feelings, Overseas Chinese, Social, The Chinese Identity, xinhua

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