China's east still the top draw for foreigners

CHINA - Regional disparity in attracting foreign talent to China is highlighted by survey results released on Wednesday showing that inland areas have a long way to go in attracting professionals from overseas.

All 10 of the cities considered the most attractive by expatriates are in eastern China, the survey shows.

The top 10 comprises Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Nanjing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Qingdao, according to the survey.

It was conducted by the Beijing magazine International Talent Monthly and the China Association for International Exchange of Personnel.

In the previous two surveys in 2011 and 2012, cities in eastern China also topped the list.

About 72,000 expatriates and English-speakers took part in this year's survey through questionnaires or by voting on the China Daily website.

Of the eight cities recognised by respondents as having high potential to become the most attractive for foreigners in China, only three are in central or western areas - Changsha, Chongqing and Chengdu.

William Brown, who started teaching at Xiamen University in the late 1980s and received a Chinese "green card" in 1992, said: "Some (Chinese) cities are simply too remote for many foreigners.

"However, the western development programmes are rapidly giving inland provinces easy access to the rest of China and the world."

Robin Wales, mayor of Newham, a borough in east London, said he believes it is important for Chinese cities to conduct research to understand their strengths and weaknesses and to try to lure global talent through their unique identities.

"If you want to attract talent, you need to offer something unique," he said.

Shanghai beat 29 rival cities in the survey with the highest recognition in terms of working and living environment, an expatriate-friendly policy, and administrative capacity.

Stuart Dunn, a Briton who has lived in Shanghai for four years, said it is an attractive place, with a very low crime rate and reasonable cost of living compared with major cities in the West.

"Shanghai has great arrangement for sports events, and the entertainment and social life here are exciting. It's not only a centre for business, but also for culture and fun," said Dunn, who manages a bar chain.

He said he lived in the Middle East before coming to Shanghai and believes China offers more cultural diversity.

Although Shanghai and Beijing scored the highest points overall, they scored the lowest on environment.

Beijing was shrouded in severe smog for weeks early this year, with pollutants from vehicle emissions, coal- burning in neighbouring regions and construction dust.

The serious pollution raised public awareness and prompted the government to take emergency measures.

Jon Michael Davis, president and chief executive officer of the National Institute of Clean-and-Low-Carbon Energy, said he chose Beijing as his favourite Chinese city for its robust business and culture.

About 550,000 foreigners were working in China last year, the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs says.

A survey released in October by HSBC that polled 7,000 expatriates in 37 countries and regions found that China is the favourite destination for expatriates this year.

Despite the economic slowdown, this survey shows China has strong appeal for career-minded expatriates, with nearly 70 per cent of respondents saying they moved to the country for better job opportunities.

In the survey results released on Wednesday, respondents who answered questionnaires to choose the most attractive Chinese cities to work in, said problems such as children's education, medical care and visa policies make it difficult for them to work in China for the long term.

Some also said they want to see more expatriate-friendly policies to help them better integrate into Chinese society, such as pension programmes and housing benefits for foreigners.

Philipp Khaytovich, who took part in the survey, said: "There is no retirement plan or obligatory medical care for foreigners paid for by their employers. There are no housing benefits, such as low-interest housing loans, available to foreigners."

Khaytovich, who works for the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, suggested that China should allow foreigners who have worked in the country for more than three years to enjoy the same social and economic benefits as local residents.

"The easiest way would be to make the hukou (housing registration) system open to long-term foreign residents, based on their education and work value," he said.