China’s New Tide of Reverse Migration
David Zweig, Chair Professor, Division of Social Science, and Director, Center on China’s Transnational Relations, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
The number of Mainland Chinese students returning from abroad has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2017, 608,000 students went abroad and 480,900 returned, yielding a return rate of 79 percent. In 1987, the return rate was five percent and in 2007 was 30.6 per cent.
Why this turnaround? The largest group of students coming back get an MA degree – in 2015, 80.5 percent of returnees were MA students – whose chances of succeeding abroad are not that great. Their major goal is to enhance their resumes for their job search back in China rather than seek a new life abroad. But our research shows that to succeed upon returning, young people need to select the right field or major, affording opportunities back in a changing China, and some work experience abroad.
A recent questionnaire by the Centre for China and Globalisation (CCG) that was posted on the website of Zhaopin, a job placement firm in China, yielded 1,700 responses. We looked at seven aspects of students’ decision to return: the time it took to find a job, how satisfied they were with their job and their lives after returning, whether the cost of studying abroad was greater than the benefits, how many years it would take to recoup the investment in their education, their actual income, and whether it was below their expectations. We found that the reason for returning–seeking opportunities back home, a sense of failure abroad, need to be near family or the draw of Chinese culture–greatly affects their life upon returning.
David Zweig is Chair Professor, Division of Social Science, and Director, Center on China’s Transnational Relations at HKUST. He is an Adjunct Professor, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, National University of Defense Technology, Changsha, Hunan, and Vice-President of the Center on China’s Globalization (Beijing). He has lived in the Mainland for four years, and in Hong Kong since 1996. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University and his PhD is from the University of Michigan (Political Science, 1983). He is the author of four books, including Internationalizing China: Domestic Interests and Global Linkages (Cornell University Press 2002), and Agrarian Radicalism in China, 1968-1981 (Harvard University Press 1989) and six edited books, including, Sino-U.S. Energy Triangles: Resource Diplomacy under Hegemony, with Hao Yufan (Routledge 2016). He is currently writing a book on China’s reverse brain drain. In 2013, he received the Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowship, Research Grants Council (RGC) of Hong Kong, 2013-14, funding from the RGC in 2015 for a project entitled, “Coming Home: Reverse Migration of Entrepreneurs and Academics in India and Turkey in Light of the Chinese Experience,” and a 2017 grant to study Chinese entrepreneurs who studied abroad. He is a frequent commentator in the international media and is a Contributing Writer to the South China Morning Press.