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China’s Appeal as an Expat Destination May Be Waning

The economic powerhouse that is China has long been an attractive proposition to expat workers. The massive growth that the economy has experienced over the last decade has produced a vast range of opportunities for global talent willing to relocate for the right position. Now, however, all that may be changing if a report by relocation experts UniGroup is to be believed.

The report examined the global movement of working expats, to see which areas showed significant changes over time. And China, it seems, shows one of the most significant shifts in population of all. According to the data, last year twice as many expat families left China than actually arrived, significantly reducing the volume of global talent present. This is a larger shift than seen for any other country in the study and suggests that major changes may be afoot for expats in China.

So what is the reason for this sudden change? What is helping to encourage expat workers to leave China in search of new opportunities, and where are they all going?

While no definitive answer is available, at least part of the problem seems to be the increasing costs of living in China. The flipside of the economic boom, and changing government policies, has meant a better quality of life for many people. Overall living standards have improved significantly and the Chinese middle class is larger than ever before. The other side of this situation means that living costs have also gone up, while salaries have failed to keep up with inflation.

This means that some expat workers are “feeling the squeeze” when other countries offer a larger gap between salaries and living expenses. Tax-free UAE for example, may be winning over expats from other countries. Those with enviable climates – like Australia – are also permanently popular examples.

Then there’s the pollution, described by some as “unliveable” in the larger Chinese cities. Sadly, while China’s industrial revolution has helped to put it squarely on the international stage, much of this production has been at the detriment of the environment. Concerns over health and the quality of life possible in polluted city centres may be having a negative impact on the satisfaction of expat workers with China.

The Wall Street Journal also reports stories of the changing political system – which seems to be growing ever more “anti-foreign” – is a cause for concern that has been cited by numerous expats leaving the country.

So where are all these expats going to? If the recent study to be believed, it seems that the USA, Germany and Singapore are the top three choices. It is perhaps interesting to note that the expat movement pattern seen in China is actually reversed in Japan, which saw twice as many expats moving to the country than leaving in 2014.

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