China has long been a popular destination for foreign students studying Chinese language or culture. But now many are switching to majors in science and technology, and some are taking up jobs here after graduation.

Official figures show that about 489,200 international students studied in China in 2017 an indicator of the country’s increasing popularity as a destination among foreign students according to the Chinese Ministry of Education.

Sixty-four percent of the students were from countries taking part in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.

Salman Al-Hamidi, from Yemen, is one of them. Speaking good Chinese, he finished his Master’s degree in South China University of Technology. CGTN spoke to him two years ago, when he was still working on his Master’s degree, and now Al-Hamidi is working at GRG Banking, the world’s top three vendor-manufacturer in the financial self-service industry.

“I was ranked the top in my major industrial automation in Yemen. The government gave me scholarships to study in China. I had other options, but I still went for China. China is the world’s manufacturer. And in the fields of AI and Industry 4.0, China is also ranked among the top,” said Al-Hamidi.

Another student Muhammad Ahmad Amin is currently working on his PhD in China, and his latest project in finger vein detection, a technology supposed to be safer than finger print detection, is expected to hit the public market soon.

“There is a great relationship between Pakistan and China. We call it like ‘iron brothers.’ The other reason is in China you can see great amount of progress in the field of technology development. If you go anywhere in the world, in any house, you will find one product made in China, so it exhibits that China has made tremendous amount of progress,” said Amin.

Various scholarships are provided by the Chinese government to lure international students over most notably, students from the Belt and Road Initiative participating countries and regions have been facilitated to obtain scholarships under the Chinese Government Scholarship, Silk Road Program.

“The Belt and Road Initiative lets the outside world see more of Chinese products, which leaves a good impression on the youngsters in other countries. This attracts more students to study in China. China’s scholarships are also drawing them over,” said Professor Hu Yongjian with South China University of Technology.

“The government is encouraging education reform most notably the combination of industry, academic studies and research. My university, with a focus on technology subjects, is one example.”

Foreigners Working in China Becoming Easier?

The number of foreigners working in China has surpassed 900,000, compared with some 10,000 in the 1980s, according to State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs. Most of them are living in the Chinese mega-cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

China began issuing permanent resident permits in 2004. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until 2012 that the central government issued a regulation allowing “green card” holders the same social and economic benefits as Chinese citizens, which is regarded as one of the most difficult to obtain in the world due to the rigid requirements involved.

Case in point is an American citizen Eunice Brock, who was conferred the Chinese “green card” in 2014, though she applied for permanent residence in 2010.

China in 2018 commenced rolling out its new long-stay visas for “high-end talent” in an attempt to encourage specialists such as top scientists and business people to live and work in China.

Over the years, Chinese authorities have been stepping up efforts to cut the red tape, in the hope of drawing more international talent.

Still, the Chinese government has been ramping up efforts to curb foreigners from working illegally in the country.

China is a huge market for English teaching, hence the burgeoning development of China’s English teaching sector – which is regarded as a lucrative industry in the country. Research shows that money spent on Chinese children’s English education amounts to 13 billion yuan annually, about two billion U.S. dollars.

Some 400,000 foreigners working in China are teaching English, two thirds of whom are working illegally, according to the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs.

Since 2015, Chinese authorities have tightened its rules in terms of foreigners teaching English in the country, requesting foreign English language teachers to be native English speakers with a bachelor’s degree and over two years of working experience.

“China needs to do more to lure skilled workers from overseas,” said Jiang Junlu, a Beijing-based lawyer who specialises in labour issues and social security. “Beijing should also get tough on those who are in the country illegally and managing people with multiple nationalities.”

China is gradually opening its market to the outside world, as the country has updated its reform and opening-up policy initiated over 40 years ago. More opportunities means more uncertain challenges, though.