China is losing skilled professionals in record numbers.
BEIJING — At 30, Chen Kuo had what many Chinese dream of: her own apartment and a well-paying job at a multinational corporation. But in mid-October,
she boarded a flight for Australia to begin a new life.
Like hundreds of thousands of Chinese who leave each year, she was driven by an overriding sense that she could do better outside China. She was lured by Australia’s healthier environment, robust social services and the freedom to start a family in a country that guarantees religious freedoms.
“It’s very stressful in China; sometimes I was working 128 hours a week for my auditing company,” Chen said in her Beijing apartment a few hours before leaving. “And it will be easier raising my children as Christians abroad.”
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As China’s Communist Party prepares a momentous leadership change in early November, it is losing skilled professionals such as Chen in record numbers. In 2010, the last year for which complete statistics are available, 508,000 Chinese left for the 34 developed countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That is a 45 percent increase over 2000.
In 2011, the U.S. received 87,000 permanent residents from China, up from 70,000 the year before. Chinese immigrants are driving real-estate booms in places as varied as New York City to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which offers a route to a European Union passport.
The emigrants talk about a development-at-all-costs strategy that has ruined the environment, and a deteriorating social and moral fabric.
“People who are middle class in China don’t feel secure for their future and especially for their children’s future,” said Cao Cong, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham who studied Chinese migration. “They don’t think the political situation is stable.”
Most migrants view a foreign passport as insurance against a worst-case scenario rather than as a complete abandonment of China.
A manager based in Shanghai at an engineering company, who asked not to be named, said he invested in a New York real-estate project in hopes of getting a green card. Also a blogger on current events, he said he had been visited by security officials, hastening his desire for a U.S. passport.
“A green card is a feeling of safety,” the manager said. “The system here isn’t stable and you don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Political turmoil has reinforced this feeling. The country has been shocked this year by revelations that Bo Xilai, one of the Communist Party’s most senior leaders, ran a fief that by official accounts engaged in murder, torture and corruption.
Wang Ruijin, a secretary at a Beijing media company, said she and her husband were pushing their 23-year-old daughter to apply for graduate school in New Zealand, hoping she can stay and open the door for the family. “To get ahead here you have to be corrupt or have connections; we prefer a stable life,” Wang said.
The movement is not all one way. The number of students returning to China was up 40 percent in 2011 compared with the previous year. The government also established programs to lure back Chinese scientists and academics by offering perks and privileges. Cao said these programs have achieved less than advertised.