Wealthy Chinese invest in immigration

Updated: 2010-12-09 11:38
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BEIJING - Zhou Qun, who moved to Germany eight years ago, has every reason to distance herself from the stereotyped traditional Chinese immigrants.

First, the 28-year-old Chinese woman tells no blood-and-sweat story of toiling in a foreign restaurant. She owns a company that make millions of dollars every year by selling stylish clothes to local German chain stores.

Second, though she has obtained the permanent right to reside in Germany, Zhou said she would like to spend more time in China.

"Life here is quite comfortable since Germany has better welfare provisions, but our families and friends are mostly in China," said Zhou, who still travels often between the two countries.

Like Zhou, many rich Chinese now see immigration as a path to a better future without bidding farewell to their homeland.

Going-out Rich

China used to supply the world with destitute, toiling workers, but sociologists say the trend is changing, with more wealthy, well-educated Chinese buying tickets for departure.

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According to the statistics released by its Department of Homeland Security, the United States approved the settlement of 1,971 investment immigrants from the Chinese mainland in 2009, surpassing the entire number of 1,360 foreign immigrants who came to the US in the previous year.

Obtaining a US EB-5 visa (for immigrant investors) requires at least $500,000, or over 3.4 million yuan. Years ago, this amount would have been daunting for most Chinese.

But since 2003, the booming domestic economy has enriched many entrepreneurs and made investment immigration more easily affordable, said Qi Lixin, chairman of the Beijing Entry & Exit Service Association.

In Wenzhou city, a brisk exporting port in East China's Zhejiang province, business-savvy entrepreneurs are flocking overseas for market expansion, said Chen Yongcong, head of Wenzhou Overseas Chinese Affairs Office.

"Many have gained permanent residency in foreign countries in order to enjoy more privileges in their business," said Chen.

Aside from entrepreneurs, some rich Chinese citizens are also emigrating because of the cleaner environment, safer food, and free medical service in the developed countries.

Qi Yi (not his real name), who runs a real estate consulting company, said he immigrated into Canada to provide a better education for his daughter.

"The test-oriented education in China is too stressful. It's not good for the growth of a child," Qi said. "I hope my daughter can acquire a broader view and more open values, and have a more enjoyable adolescence."

Unknown Destination

In spite of their vigorous pursuit of foreign residency, most of the immigration investors have not abandoned their roots in China.

"Most of our clients are middle-aged entrepreneurs who are usually reluctant to give up the career and network they've built up in China," said a consultant with a Guangzhou-based immigration agency.

"And given their age, they often find it difficult to assimilate to the mainstream society of foreign countries," he said.

The consultant described such immigrants as "migratory birds", as they traveled to-and-fro between China and the country they immigrated to.

"So long as China keeps up its pace of development, it will not lose gravity to these going-out Chinese," said Yu Jianrong, sociologist with the Chinese Academy of Social Science.

Zhou Qun, for example, was considering moving part of her business back home, as the global financial crisis shrank the local demand and intensified competition in Germany.

"Our focus will tilt towards China, as it is where the future competitiveness comes from, and the home to our retirement life," said Zhou.

But to Chen Yongcong, whose job is to contact Chinese immigrants across the globe, the major concern was the choice of their children.

Though aging Chinese immigrants are more likely to return home, their children, who identify less with China, may choose differently.

"The second immigrant generation are fiercely sought by foreign countries, as they are the heirs-apparent of huge wealth," said Chen, who added the focus of their work had shifted to the Chinese education of the immigrants' child.