China continues to be a favourable spot for its 'haigui'

By Rachana Goupta
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, May 1, 2019
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Chinese graduates of Columbia University attend the commencement ceremony in New York City, United States, May 20, 2015. [Photo/Xinhua]

"Haigui" or "sea turtles" is a term popularly used in China for students who leave the home country to gain higher education overseas and then return either immediately after completing their education, or after some years of working overseas. In the last decade, the number of these "sea turtles" returning home has increasingly swelled. For instance, at the beginning of the century, only one out of every ten students returned to the homeland; however, in 2017, the corresponding figure reached eight out of every ten. Clearly, there has been a major shift in the percentage of these students. The top three most significant reasons for this shift are increasing opportunities as a result of the booming Chinese economy, the favourable domestic policies that incentivize the return of a student, and the tighter immigration policies in Western countries. 

In order to understand the reasons better, let's take a closer look. Traditionally, studying abroad provides a better career trajectory for Chinese students as they can earn much better than their local peers. Forty years back, when Deng Xiaoping opened up the Chinese economy to the outside world, he made a strategic decision to send students and scholars abroad to learn new technologies and management skills. In the last forty years, as the country's economy continued to grow, the Chinese students studying overseas – who were well equipped with different skill sets including the ability to work in a diverse and cross-cultural environment, better language abilities, and better problem-solving skills than their local peers – saw opportunities of finding suitable roles for higher pay. 

The phenomenon of returning back to China after completing education, however, has intensified in recent years. In 2017 alone, a record 480,900 Chinese students returned to the country after studying abroad, according to the data from the Ministry of Education, which was 11.19% higher than the previous year. Out of these students, nearly 50% held a master's degree or above, a 14.9% jump from the previous year's figure. During the last forty years, since the opening up of the Chinese economy, in total, a whopping 3.13 million haigui (83.73% of the total number of Chinese students graduated from overseas) have returned home.

Additionally, the Chinese government has made several favorable policies for the haigui, especially in technological areas such as IT, artificial intelligence, bio-technology, space exploration, etc. For example, the government of Chaoyang District in Beijing had launched a talent program named Chaoyang Overseas Talent Center's Phoenix Plan in 2010. Under this plan, the government provides a sum between 50,000 to 500,000 RMB (US$7,700 to US$77,000) to expats and Chinese nationals living overseas who commence their start-ups in the district. Similarly, the 1,000 Talent Plan, which was launched in 2008, aims at recruiting scientists and academicians who come to China by offering massive subsidies and research funds.

Moreover, tighter immigration policies and the growing uncertainty in the job market as a result of stalled economic growth in Western countries are also instigating Chinese students, who would earlier wish to stay in their host nations, to return to their homeland for opportunities. 

Moving ahead, over the years, haigui, which was earlier considered as an equivalent to Chinese elites became less exceptional as a result of the greater number of students going overseas fuelled by the exponential growth in the Chinese economy. Also, the disparity in the pay scale for students graduating from local universities and haigui has shrunk considerably because of the increased competency level of local students. Therefore, not all the haigui make an exceptional living after returning, which is in contrast to their initial expectations. In some cases, an individual has to face challenges such as competing with the local peers who have a better knowledge of the market, lower pay structure, a better understanding of local work culture, etc. 

Although these people choose China over life overseas, taking into account the future prospects that they can get in their homeland, along with a comfortable life with their parents and loved ones, whether or not they succeed in the long-term, depends on their individual skills and the career path they choose. However, looking at the overall data and the growing percentage of the sea turtles, it can be concluded that China has managed to turn things around over the years in terms of providing a preferable workplace and the future prospects, along with a familiar environment, which is difficult to find elsewhere.

Rachana Gupta is an active blogger, poet and freenlance content writer.

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