Beijing losing popularity as more expats leave than are arriving

Published:  6 Oct at 6 PM
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Tagged: Visas, China
China’s increasing cost of living, dwindling expat pay packets and smog are all reasons why more expats are leaving than are arriving.

Once a favourite with more adventurous expats, China and its mega-cities are now seeing a fall in the number of expats due to pollution and rising living costs. The total number of expats located in Beijing reached its zenith in 2010 and has been falling ever since.

China’s decline in popularity amongst expats is causing major concerns for Beijing’s municipal government, to the extent that a meeting between leaders of the city’s expat community and government representatives was held recently. Discussions included requests for suggestions on how the city authorities could improve its image in order to attract more expats and retain those already resident.

Unsurprisingly, Beijing’s chronic air pollution problems was the main reason for the expat exodus, as those with young families were no longer able to risk their own and their childrens’ health. The city’s infamous smog contains dangerous particulate matter which can cause severe respiratory health problems, with young people at especial risk. Over 22 million people live in the city, with traffic pollution adding to the miasmas for factories in a deadly cocktail of impure air.

According to local media, international companies located in Beijing are now finding it almost impossible to attract expat professional due to the dangers of the ever-present smog. At present, the city authorities are trying hard to clean up and have recently passed stringent environmental laws including huge fines for non- compliance. However, no-one’s quite sure what to do about the coal-fired public heating systems essential during Beijing’s freezing winters.

As if the smog wasn’t enough, many expats are now concerned about food safety in the city’s eateries and street stalls. Scandals occur frequently, leaving expats with the expensive alternative of only eating imported Western foods. Beijing’s pricy international school fees are another problem for expat families, especially since wages are stagnating, the cost of living is steadily increasing and financial packages are shrinking.

In addition, China’s economic growth slowdown is resulting in contracts being ended early, with layoffs now common.The difficulty of obtaining long-term visas isn’t helping the situation, although the authorities are now suggesting green card requirements may be eased. The ban on expat permanent residency may also be partially relaxed in order to allow applications from expats working in certain districts, although no news yet has been released as to which districts will be involved.
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