Fewer Chinese to stay abroad after graduation – Survey

The number of Chinese students seeking to settle overseas after graduating from universities abroad is dropping, amid stricter immigration policies in many countries and continued strong growth fuelling job opportunities in China, says a survey released as the United States reportedly considers limiting the length of visas for certain categories of Chinese students.

The 2018 Chinese Students Overseas Study White Paper, published on 22 May by New Oriental Vision Overseas, a major private education service provider, found that 46% of students had no intention of immigrating after graduation – up from 39% in 2017 and 35% in 2016.

Over half of those surveyed plan to return to China after gaining foreign work experience, up from 37% in 2015, compared with only 13% of students who wished to seek long-term employment abroad.

The annual survey, conducted over the past four years, questioned some 5,000 students nationwide. “A comparative study of results over a four-year period can reveal projected continuous growth in the numbers of student returnees,” says the white paper, based on data collected both online and offline between February and March this year.

The report points to two main factors driving the change – recent tightening of employment and immigration policies regarding international students in various countries, and China’s “better economic prospects and strong growth momentum”.

Chinese students also reported a less favourable view of studying in the United States, with 44% of respondents naming the US as their top study destination compared with 49% last year, 46% in 2016 and 51% in 2015.

Chinese students – who account for one third of the total foreign student population of around one million in the US – are expecting closer scrutiny and fresh visa restrictions under the Donald Trump administration.

US proposed restrictions

Last Tuesday, the US State Department was revealed to be planning to shorten the length of some visas for Chinese citizens, including graduate students – to counter alleged intellectual property theft by Chinese companies – as part of the US administration’s clampdown on what it regards as China’s unfair trade practices.

Under the new policy expected to come into effect on 11 June, Associated Press news agency reported that the United States could limit the length and validity of visas rather than issuing them for the maximum possible time of up to five years under existing rules.

Chinese graduate students will be limited to one-year visas if they are studying in fields like robotics, aviation and high-tech manufacturing – areas that China identified as priorities in its ‘Made in China’ 2025 manufacturing plan, but which the US sees as boosting strategically important industries where it has a global technological advantage.

Around 5,000 students from China with temporary visas to the US earned doctoral degrees in science and engineering from American universities in 2016, according to US National Science Foundation figures.

While some believe more restrictive US policies could push more Chinese students to apply to countries like the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, the white paper showed that among students surveyed, the popularity of those countries has also dipped – a 1%, 2% and 6% drop respectively since 2017 among students preferring these countries.

Recent reports of visa delays for Chinese graduate and postgraduate students wanting to study in Australia have also surfaced.

In comparison, more students say they would like to study in countries such as Germany, France and Japan, which are seen as increasingly attractive for better affordability and quality teaching, the survey found.

Wave of returnees

China is currently witnessing its biggest wave of overseas returnees in recent years.

According to Chinese Ministry of Education estimates, more than 600,000 Chinese students left the country to pursue advanced studies overseas in 2017 while the number of returnees surpassed 480,000 – up 11.19% on the previous year. Of these, some 227,400 had obtained a masters degree or higher.

Returning students are increasingly being wooed with a range of government incentives. Many in science and technology fields are offered generous domestic research funding and opportunities.

According to official statistics, as of 2017 more than 70% of project leaders in key national research projects are overseas returnees, while a large number of academics at top institutions such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences also have overseas experience.