The move is the latest in China’s strategy to position itself as a study destination and attract talent to help globalise its labour force.
Under the new regulations announced on January 6 by the Ministries of Human Resources and Social Security, Foreign Affairs, and Education, foreign graduates with a master’s degree or above from a university in China are immediately eligible to apply for work visas within one year of graduation.
Similarly, Chinese nationals with a master’s degree or above from “well-known universities overseas” can return to China to seek graduate jobs within one year of graduation.
“If China wants to expand its international higher education capacity, it must leverage the attractiveness of its massive, globalised employment market among foreign students”
Previous regulations required international students and students with foreign degrees to have a minimum of two years’ work experience outside of China.
The precondition prevented international graduates from transitioning from school to work, according to Eric Skuse, research manager at Emerging Strategy, a market intelligence company based in Shanghai.
“This policy change is a recognition that if China wants to expand its international higher education capacity further, it must leverage the attractiveness of China’s massive, globalised employment market among foreign students seeking to start careers,” commented Skuse.
According to the Ministry of Education, in 2015 390,000 international students studied in China. The country is taking action to grow its share of globally mobile students including increasing the number of English taught degrees at Chinese universities, which, according to MastersPortal, now total 327, including 143 bachelors and 184 master’s programmes, mostly in business administration and STEM fields, at 105 universities.
“The fact that graduates of China’s institutions can benefit from this policy…is clearly intended to bolster the attractiveness of its own graduate programmes at Chinese schools for foreigners,” noted Skuse.
To apply for the one-year work visa, foreign students must have secured employment with a Chinese company in a field that matches their degree, meets local skills demands and offers a salary set to market standards. They must be over 18, have a B (80%) grade average or higher, and no criminal record.
“Having this new policy, will encourage more foreign students to choose China as a study destination and then to stay and work here,” commented Jill Tang, founder of CareerXFactor, a talent recruitment company for graduates with foreign degrees.
“This policy might even encourage the first generation of Chinese migrants who moved overseas to send their kids back to China for studying and working.”
However, China’s labour market remains highly competitive, and foreign graduates will have to compete with Chinese nationals who studied at home and those returning with foreign degrees.
“Their major competitor will be Chinese overseas returnees who are bilingual or even trilingual so the language is a key. If they want to get a job, they have to speak good Chinese,” Tang said.
China’s government is encouraging industry to look outward as it aims to bolster slowing economic growth. At the World Economic Forum this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping explained the country’s reasoning to “embrace the global market” and outlined his strategy to develop it further.
“This policy might even encourage the first generation of Chinese migrants who moved overseas to send their kids back to China for studying and working”
“Whether you like it or not, the global economy is the big ocean that you cannot escape from,” he said in his speech at Davos.
“Any attempt to cut off the flow of capital, technologies, products, industries and people between economies, and channel the waters in the ocean back into isolated lakes and creeks is simply not possible. Indeed, it runs counter to the historical trend.”
China’s development into a more globalised free market means the country needs more talent with a global mindset, argued Tang.
“For certain skills, China will still need to import either knowledge or people from overseas,” she said.
The more relaxed post-study work policy also presents opportunities for Chinese businesses to use foreign graduates to help establish overseas hubs.
“Some of the big companies are thinking about setting up internship or graduate programmes for foreign students and later sending them back to their home countries and have them to help the company to expand business there,” said Tang.
The move to retain foreign talent follows similar efforts at the local level including Beijing’s announcement last year that foreign students will be permitted to have short-term internships and international students studying in Beijing universities can take part-time jobs or become entrepreneurs in the city’s tech district, Zhongguancun.