The competitive job market in Beijing has been hotter than the scorching summer this year, as it is not only proving to be tough for locals, but for foreign graduates seeking jobs as well. The market is further being heated up by new rules that allow foreign students to work part time while they study.
At a job fair held at the Beijing Friendship Hotel, foreign students are trying to land a job in China.
Last month, about 27 companies and institutions from China' eastern Zhejiang Province offered 142 vacancies for positions including engineers, salespeople and foreign managers, which attracted some 200 foreigners, mostly students.
"I've come here to get experience and hopefully get a job in China," 22-year-old Russian student Kristina Popova, from Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times.
It was Popova's first time at a job fair. She has been studying Chinese for five years and has worked as a translator and part-time English teacher. Despite her existing experience in China, she said she was a bit worried.
"The interview officers seem very professional. I think they might be looking for someone with more experience," she said.
There were over 320,000 international students studying at 690 universities across China in 2012, up 11 percent from 2011. That number is expected to reach 500,000 in 2016, according to the Department of International Cooperation and Exchange, under the Ministry of Education.
For many foreign students like Popova, China is seen as a land of possibilities. They might find jobs more easily than at home, with higher pay and a relatively more comfortable life. But not everything is easy. The path that leads to a job is often harder than they expect.
When it comes to working in China, one of the most important things that foreign students have to clarify with their Chinese employers is "will you get me a working visa?"
To get a working visa, foreigners must have at least two years of work experience in the relevant industry, which rules out most graduates. This means that foreign graduates have to go back home after graduation so they can apply for a job in China after getting the required experience.
Until last year, foreign students were not allowed to work part time or take on an internship while they were studying. Some believe these policies were the major reasons that stopped some foreign students from studying in China.
Employers face fines of up to 10,000 yuan ($1,600) for each foreigner illegally hired, and foreigners who work illegally may have their income confiscated and can face detention or deportation.
But there have been recent changes. Last year the government updated the current visa system and introduced some changes to the application process for a residence permit. For the first time, foreigners holding study residence permits were permitted to take part-time jobs or internships outside the campus as long as they obtain approval from their academic institutions and the entry and exit administrative authorities.
Lin Yaochen, a business assistant with Zhejiang-based King-Mazon Machinery Co. Ltd, who interviewed a dozen foreign students at the job fair in Beijing, told the Global Times that the company is willing to offer intern opportunities for inexperienced candidates.
"We are actually looking for the more experienced candidates, but the foreign students told us that their universities don't offer them internship opportunities," Lin said.
This is Lin's third time hiring foreign talent in Beijing. "You can see these young people come prepared. They dress up in suits and greet us politely," she said. "You can see they really take it seriously."
At the end of a whole day of interviews, Lin said they had given out two official job offers and three internship opportunities.
During the summer hiring period this year, the career centers of many universities have been busy introducing this new rule to foreign students, who are about to compete with 7 million fresh Chinese graduates.
"I believe foreign students have a better chance than Chinese students," Popova said.
However, education experts see it as an opportunity to promote culture. "I don't think the increasing number of foreign students brings competition to Chinese graduates," Zhu Dingjian, a representative of the standing committee of the All China Youth Federation, said while attending this year's National People's Congress in March.
"Friendship first, competition second," Zhu continued. "Foreign students can promote diplomatic friendship no matter whether they work in China or at home."
Ejaz Karim, 29, a Pakistani student studying at Tianjin Normal University, came all the way to Beijing for the job fair to gain experience.
Before coming to China, Karim had three years experiences working at a tour company at home. Now he wants to get into the hotel management industry.
"The economy in China is growing faster than in my country," Karim told the Global Times. "I know the job market is becoming more and more competitive as the number of foreigners increase, but I think I can stand out with my international background."
Foreigners with an international background, like Karim, are favored by many Chinese companies that are expanding their business networks overseas.
"We need more foreign professionals to push our products to go global," Ge Wei, an HR manager at the Zhejiang-based Shanhai Machinery Company, told the Global Times. "We do not mind hiring talent from developing countries as they can develop new markets for us."
The second thing that most foreign students are concerned about is payment. Generally foreign employees receive an income 2.5 times higher than Chinese employees in the same position.
But many inexperienced foreign students are satisfied with a lower starting salary. Popova said 5,000 yuan a month, with accommodation provided, would be acceptable.
"We can offer up to 40,000 yuan for a professional European engineer, plus an apartment," said Lin. "For salespeople, 20,000 yuan a month is acceptable."
New supervision and management
When China opened its doors to the world in 1980s, it was uncertain what kind of foreign talent it might attract. China's foreign population has risen as the economy has grown.
Not all Chinese companies are permitted to hire foreigners. Companies that have been open for less than two years cannot, but some of these companies bypass these rules by asking foreign employees to get other types of visas such as business or tourist visas.
Over the years, the country has developed means of cracking down on foreigners working illegally. In May 2012, Beijing launched a 100-day crackdown on "illegal foreigners," focusing on those working illegally in the city or who overstayed their visas. More than 60 models, mostly from Europe, were taken into custody for working without working visas last month in Shanghai and Guangzhou.
A year later, the authorities released new visa and residence permit regulations for foreigners, as well as new regulations about foreigners working in China.
The regulation strengthens supervision and management over foreigners, including allowing some institutions to verify their identities with exit-entry administration authorities when necessary, and making it necessary for foreign nationals to report to local entry and exit administrative authorities if they change jobs or house.
Some foreigners complain that the rules are changed too often. "Every year or 18 months, there are new rules. This can upset lots of foreigners because they don't know where they stand. It's inconsistent," Carlos Ottery, 31, a teacher at the Communication University of China, told the Global Times.
Ottery has been living in China for five years with a working visa. Every time he leaves China, he has to report to the local police station within 24 hours when he comes back. He thinks this is an onerous task.
"As the regulations are getting stricter, I am afraid some small companies might think twice before getting a work visa for foreign employees," an HR manager surnamed Zhu at a Beijing-based foreign company told the Global Times.
There have been some positive changes for foreign staff. In 2011, foreigners working in Chinese companies became eligible to participate in the national social insurance scheme, which covers pensions, medical, work-related injuries, unemployment and maternity insurance programs.
Now China is considering relaxing its "green card" policy. In the ten years since the system was launched in 2004, an average of just 248 foreigners obtained green cards annually, according to Xinhua.
But with or without a green card, staying in China is the priority for many foreign students. "I've been studying Chinese for five years, it would be a waste of time if I go home now," Popova said.
When asked what if she couldn't find a job, she considered the question for a moment. "Well, I would go for postgraduate study like Chinese students do," she said.
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