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Expats rank attractive Chinese cities | Updated: 2013-04-09 17:28

Major takeaways from this year's survey:

1. Economic Development and Global Appeal Go Hand in Hand

All of the expats’ 10 most favored cities are located on China’s eastern shorelines, where economic activity is the most thriving.

The distribution pattern of the 10 most attractive cities and the eight Potential Contenders is consistent with the inherent discrepancies in social and economic development among different regions in China. As a result, foreign professionals are more likely to live and work in economically advanced eastern China than inland. A good case in point is that Beijing has issued 911 permanent residence permits to expats as of December 2012, accounting for 1/5 of the total issued nationwide. Expats also show greater mobility in eastern China, as some work in Shanghai, live in Suzhou, and go to Hangzhou for entertainment.

2. Better Infrastructure Needed for Permanent Settlers

Of the 1,050 foreigners who cast their ballots, 30.4% indicated an intention to settle down in China with their family. Most of them are highly educated professionals. Yet some Chinese cities are ill-prepared to embrace this highly skilled foreign workforce. They need to do more to make the expats more comfortable.

While opportunities in China abound, there are downsides as well, such as renewing their visa every year, lack of proper medical services, and schools for their children.

3. Living Environment a Growing Concern among Expats

This year’s survey has reconfirmed a broad consensus—that living environment rates highly in how expats evaluate their community. Expats rated five of our 10 most attractive cities and two of the eight Potential Contenders highly due to their outstanding living environments.

To demonstrate just how seriously expats value their living environment, despite having topped the chart for three years, Beijing and Shanghai underperformed this year as foreigners living in these two cities joined locals in loud criticism over the worsening air pollution.

For years, expats in the nation’s capital joked about catching a “Beijing Cough”—a respiratory syndrome casually associated with Beijing’s smoggy weather during wintertime. The shrouded sky over Beijing is discouraging expats from staying longer and scaring away others who would otherwise love to visit, work, and live here.

4. Potential Contenders Shine with Unique Strength

While the 10 most attractive cities lead with strengths across the whole range of indicators, our Potential Contenders are catching up. Unlike the top 10 that saw little change in their averages of the 18 indicators, Potential Contenders had some of the 18 averages deviate significantly from others.

Take Hefei, the capital of Anhui province, for example. Companies based in the city have been aggressively hiring foreign professionals in recent years. This is evident in local government subsidies provided to expat-hiring companies, which rose from RMB5 million in 2010 to RMB6.32 million in 2011.

Additionally, more than $1.18 billion in foreign capital flowed into the city in 2011, up 16 percent from a year earlier. This capital supports a growing number of businesses that constitute integral parts of global value chains across many sectors. Along with the capital, some 600 foreign professionals arrived to help build a rising industrial city.

The rise of Hefei and other cities like it is the latest sign of an influx of foreign professionals into China’s inland, where their expertise can help engineer the next wave of urbanization.

Having worked in Hefei for over a decade, Reinhart Kühne, 66, former director of the Institute of Transportation Research at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), now oversees a joint research program between China and Germany to devise sustainable transportation solutions for fast-growing cities.

“China’s new urbanization will begin first and foremost in cities like Hefei,” says Kühne.

5. Growth Potential Valued

Four of the 10 most attractive cities solidified their ranking by providing expats with jobs that pay well or offer a business-friendly environment. Many foreign professionals believe their career will take off here in China. Among them is Cyrille Breard, a US technical expert in noise engineering who sits on the expert panel of this year’s city survey.

Breard cast his ballot in favor of Shanghai, where he has been working as a senior engineer at Commercial Aircraft Corp of China, Ltd. Back when he was still with Boeing in 2008, Breard read about the still nascent CACC and decided to contribute his share to this fledgling start-up. In the years since, CACC successfully designed its own commercial jet, which will be ready for delivery as early as 2016.

“I wouldn’t have come here if I wasn’t confident. When China makes up its mind to do something, they’ll surely succeed.”

Zhang Jianguo, administrator of SAFEA, says, “China is scouting talent worldwide. The quality and quantity of foreign professionals reflect the openness and development of a country. China has a very large workforce, but we still lack high-end professionals to fuel the country’s growth.”

6. Strong Call for Visa Reform and Green Card

Many of the 42 distinguished foreign experts making up this year’s panel call for an overhaul in visa applications and less restriction on obtaining a permanent residence permit (green card).

A more streamlined visa application process and extended period of stay will attract more foreign professionals and their families to work and live in China, says Zhang Yaqin, corporate vice president of Microsoft.

Much to the joy of many expats working in China, the Chinese government announced in late 2012 a much-anticipated reform of its green card policy, including easier eligibility and access to social security and education for children.

China first legally allowed foreigners to permanently stay in the country in 2004, with a government-issued green card. Reducing restrictions on the green card policy will stimulate the inflow of high-end professionals from around the world.

International Talent, a monthly magazine under the auspices of the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs of China (SAFEA), conducted the voting and survey, and did a statistical analysis of data in cooperation with Horizon Research Consultancy Group. is the official media partner of the vote.

Special Coverage: 2011 Amazing China 


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