The issue of “brain drain” has been a topic of discussion in China for some time. As China’s best students are offered opportunities to study and work abroad, the nation is finding they often don’t choose to return, and the national resources used to raise and educate them are, in essence, wasted. A 2007 survey suggested that 70% of Chinese students who study abrtoad don’t ever move back to China, and while some suggest that the situation is not that dire, it is certainly clear that China wants ways to attract overseas talent. And these days, they’re not just after study abroad kids who got green cards and never came back, they’re also looking to lure purely foreign talents to Chinese soil.
How can this be accomplished? In a recent op-ed piece in Southern Weekend, Wang Huiyao offers some ideas:
- Allow immigration visas for both technical specialists and people who can benefit “national interest”. Attract high level foreign talent to settle down in China with a visa, then apply for a green card, and finally become naturalized citizens. Finally, permit foreigners with talent and education who can benefit the nation to immigrate via visas and apply for green cards even if they are not technical or economic specialists so that they can benefit Chinese education, culture, health, etc.
- People at the highest level can directly apply for green cards. Nobel Prize winners, Fortune 500 CEOs, professors at foreign brand-name schools, international leaders in science, the arts, culture, etc., who have achieved outstanding success in their fields — all of them can apply directly for green cards. Those who have invested more than 1 million USD in China or created more than ten jobs in specific professions [in China] can directly apply for an “investor green card”.
- A public path from green card to naturalized citizenship. Those who posess a green card and have lived in China longer than 3-5 years may apply to become naturalized citizens if they wish.
- For those originally from China and those who were forced to give up Chinese citizenship, grant long-term “overseas compatriot” visa exemptions. At present there’s no dual-citizenship policy, so consider simplifying visa application procedures and directly granting long-term residence permits for those of Chinese origin but born abroad who can be considered high-level talents.
- Increase the recruitment of foreign students [to come to China to study]. There are more than a million Chinese students studying abroad in other countries, but little more than 200,000 foreign students studying in China.
- Create a mechnaism for attracting international talent, smash the barriers between domestic and foreign within the [extant] system. International experience could become a criterion for promoting cadres, and State-owned enterprises should not make nationality a restriction in their search for talent.
- We can consider tacit approval of dual citizenship.
It’s going to take a lot more than that to attract high-level foreign talents to China, although making navigation of the immigration system easier is probably a good first step. Still, Wang seems to be missing the point here. The important question is: what is it about China that causes students who go abroad to abandon it in the first place? After four years of studying abroad, any Chinese student could quite easily return home without any visa or naturalization issues — they would still be Chinese citizens at that point — but they choose not to. Why?
Moreover, is the reason more foreign talents in business and culture haven’t moved to China really that the immigration procedures are too difficult? The United States has — and has had for some time — a nortoriously labyrinthine and strict naturalization process, and yet many Chinese students thrown themselves into it voluntarily upon conclusion of their studies. Why aren’t foreigners willing to do the same thing in China?
The answer to that question is almost certainly quite complex. But how difficult the answer is to uncover doesn’t matter; China is unlikely to ever arrive at an answer if they aren’t asking the right question.