Nearly 10 million Chinese nationals have emigrated to other countries in the past 23 years, taking billions of dollars in assets as well as their technical skills along with them.
In 2012, the total number of Chinese nationals permanently moving to China’s four major migration destinations — the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — reached 148,034. By contrast, the Chinese government only issued 1,202 new permanent residency certificates to foreign nationals, which is already a new record high. In the same year, the number of Chinese exchange students overseas reached 1.1 million, compared to just 326,0000 foreign exchange students in China.
A report by the independent Beijing-based think tank the Center for China and Globalization found that Chinese emigrants were concentrated in the 35-55 age group of middle-class income earners. The main reasons identified for leaving China included education for their children and health concerns stemming from the country’s crippling pollution problems.
In 1990, there were 4.1 million Chinese emigrants living overseas, compared to just 376,000 foreign nationals living in China, resulting in a gap of 3.7 million. The number of Chinese emigrants has risen 128.6% since then to 9.3 million, widening the migration gap to 8.5 million.
The four major destinations for Chinese emigrants in recent years were the US, where 81,784 Chinese nationals were granted permanent residency, Canada where the figure was 33,018, Australia, where it was 29,547, and New Zealand where it was 7,723, totaling 152,000.
One feature of Chinese emigration is the large share of investment-oriented migration. According to a study recently released by the Beijing-based Center for China and Globalization, the number of investment-oriented Chinese emigrants to the US, who were granted green cards, jumped to 2,408 in 2011, more than triple the 772 in 2010. Figures from the US Department of State show that 6,124 Chinese immigrants were granted green cards in 2012, 2.5 times the number in 2011 and 7.9 times the number in 2010.
The Center for China and Globalization stated in a report on Jan. 21 that in 2011, Chinese nationals with individual investable assets over 6 million yuan (US$991,000) transferred a total of 2.8 trillion yuan (US$462 billion) worth of assets — accounting for 3% of China’s GDP in 2011 — out of a total of 33 trillion yuan (US$5 trillion), abroad, with Hong Kong, with 22%, the US, with 21%, and Canada, with 16%, being the three largest destinations, followed by Switzerland with 9%, Singapore with 6% and Australia with 5%.
According to the Shanghai-based China Business News, the purchase of overseas properties by Chinese nationals has increased rapidly in recent years in line with the trend of investment-oriented emigration. Chinese nationals have become the second-largest group of overseas property buyers since 2011, according to the Center for China and Globalization. They also account for 20%-40% of offshore buyers for property markets in Vancouver, Toronto, Brisbane and London, jacking up local property prices. Chinese “house-purchasing delegations” swarmed to the US, the UK, Canada and Australia last year, causing a stir in local property markets.
Song Quancheng, director of the Institute of Migration Studies at Shandong University, noted that these delegations have also targeted Germany and Belgium. In addition, Chinese property buyers have extended their scope to Edinburgh in the UK, Detroit in the US and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. They boasted a share of over 40% in Vancouver’s property market in 2012, up from 29% in 2011.
China has also become America’s second largest property buyer. In the 12 months ending March 2013, Chinese buyers spent US$12.3 billion on properties in the US, representing one-eighth of total domestic property acquisitions. Even more remarkably, 69% of those purchases were made in cash.
In an interview with the Global Times, the center’s chief Wang Huiyao said Chinese nationals with around US$1 million in assets or more had transferred US$465 billion overseas in 2011. Chinese people migrating to foreign countries, however, is not necessarily always a bad thing as it can highlight the differences between China and other developed countries, provide space for reflection and introspection, he said.
Emigrants may take their funds and technical abilities with them, but they can also grow into a community of Chinese talents overseas, which could benefit China in the future, Wang said, adding that it is therefore essential for the government to exploit this trend, including by establishing a dedicated immigration department to minimize the impact of the gap between outgoing and incoming migrants.
Zhang Yiwu, an academic with Peking University, told Global Times that China’s current migration trends will continue but that it is not the time to panic. In the past, Chinese people were willing to go to another country to wash dishes but they are doing it now because they have money, Zhang said, adding that countries with rapid economic development such as China and South Korea can naturally expect a lot of emigrants. A survey released this month by the Hurun Report, a monthly magazine best known for its China rich lists, found that 64% of surveyed millionaires had either already emigrated or had plans to do so.