“Nali Lai de?” – An Overview of Expat Demographics in China

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By Zhou Qian and Steven Elsinga

With its unique culture, vast geographic size, and fast-growing economy, China has long held a special appeal for foreign visitors. For more than twenty years, the last of these reasons has drawn a wave of foreign job seekers to China to start or continue their careers. Being a foreign employee in China, however, is not always smooth nor easy, especially considering the country’s fast-changing markets and regulatory system. Here we provide a quick sketch of China’s expat demographics, with the next article excerpted from our December magazine focusing on work visa procedures.

Overview of expats working in China

There can be no doubt that in recent years, China’s expatriate make-up has been changing. With the country’s domestic work force steadily maturing, managerial positions are increasingly being taken on by Chinese talent, often with foreign degrees in hand and without the cultural disconnect of previous generations. The role of expats is changing as well. Where multinationals once came to China mostly for manufacturing and exporting, they are now increasingly here to access the Chinese consumer market, and are shifting their focus to logistics, warehousing and distribution accordingly.

The overall number of expats working in China has increased dramatically since the launch of “reform and opening-up” (in 1978). According to China’s most recent National Census held in 2010 – the first to record the number of foreigners residing in China – there are at least 600,000 expats working or living in cities throughout the country, broken down by nationality in the chart below.

NationalitiesCB 2014 12_infographic4

In our next article in this series, we describe in detail the laws governing employing foreign nationals in China, including expat hiring quotas, different visa types and their respective uses, and the procedure for obtaining documentation for foreign works in your company. For China-specific visa services and human resources advisory, please contact china@dezshira.com.

CB 2014 12_cover_250x350This article is an excerpt from the December issue of China Briefing Magazine, titled “Employing Foreign Nationals in China“. In this issue of China Briefing, we have set out to produce a guide to employing foreign nationals in China, from the initial step of applying for work visas, to more advanced subjects such as determining IIT liability and optimizing employee income packages for tax efficiency. Lastly, recognizing that few foreigners immigrate to China on a permanent basis, we provide an overview of methods for remitting RMB abroad.

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