Allure of United States Remains for Emigrating Chinese

In spite of their country's booming economy, many Chinese people still seek opportunities to work, study, and live in the United States.
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immigrant.jpgQizhen Song of China registers to vote following a naturalization ceremony. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

China's new president Xi Jinping has made the achievement of the "Chinese Dream" the goal of his tenure, but for many among China's elite, their dream may be emigrating to another country. According to a report by Center for China & Globalization on China's immigration trends published in 2012, an immigration wave is sweeping up many of China's wealthiest and most educated people.

When Joanna Jia walked in the EB-5 Info session held in a bank conference room in Qingdao, Shandong province, she was surprised by how young the other eight attendees looked: most were in their late 20's.

The EB-5, an American investment immigration visa, has become very popular among Chinese middle and upper class. According to the China International Immigration Report, among those Chinese with assets of over 100 million RMB (about $16 million), 27 percent had emigrated abroad and 47 percent were considering doing so; among those with assets of over 10 million RMB, 60 percent had finished or been in the process of applying for an EB-5 visa.

"We hold info sessions in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen almost every week," said Mrs. Li, who works in Globevisa, one of the EB-5 consulting firms in Shanghai. Some of these sessions are open to the public, others targeting a high-end clientele are by invitation only.

Two years ago, Joana Jia attended three EB-5 info sessions in Qingdao and one exclusive event, where each participant would get personalized advice. Jia says she attended because she wanted to find out whether her parents could have a better retirement if they emigrated to the U.S. Because Jia looked like a young student, she did not get much attention at that event and therefore was able to observe other participants closely.

Jia said she sat close to one powerful figure in the municipal government "who spoke with a very low voice and asked how to invest more than the required amount for EB-5 and whether his wife and son could get out immediately. One year later, he was arrested."

Many are turning to online forums to share information anonymously. Globeclub BBS is one of the most popular forums for discussions about emigrating overseas. As of April 16, 2013, there are 434,989 posts and 43,890 members on this forum. On April 16 alone, there were 4,009 new posts and replies.

A "diamond level" post on the web site Globeclub reveals the top reasons that most Chinese elites emigrate to the U.S.: better education opportunities for their children with less competitive college entrance exams; the safety of their property; better social welfare; and a better lifestyle, including having a passport that makes international travel easier.

According to a survey by real estate website Soufun.net, among a sample size of 5,000 people, the top listed reasons to invest and emigrate overseas are better living conditions (41.5  percent), better education conditions for children (35.43 percent), and better retirement conditions (14.68 percent). According to a report by Guangming Daily, 80 percent of Chinese billionaires immigrate for better education opportunities.

In interviews with Tea Leaf Nation, a number of Chinese immigrants in the United States said they shared the motivations set forth on websites like Globeclub and Soufun. One major reason is educational opportunities. According to China's Ministry of Education, the number of Chinese students studying abroad increased by 17.65 percent from 2011 to 2012, while the number of student returning to China increased by 46.6 percent.

"There must be some people who apply for green cards for political concerns, but I never met any of them."

"If it were not for my daughters' [ability] to attend schools here, I would not have immigrated to the U.S.," said Mrs. Yang, an EB-5 investor who invested one million dollars to create an international trade venture in 2011 and got conditional green cards for her family. (She had to prove that her investment created ten jobs after two years.)

Yang made her fortune in international trade between China and the U.S., but she never thought about emigrating overseas before her elder daughter applied for college in the U.S. Now she lives in New York with her two daughters, with one attending college, and the other attending primary school. Yang is still trying her best to navigate the American system.

"I feel in China it is sometimes easier for business, because money could help you do many things that seem impossible at the beginning," said Mrs. Yang.

In 2011, Lisa Zhou and her parents were surprised by a piece of good news: they were issued a permit to obtain American green cards. The application had been filed ten years ago by a relative who lived in the U.S., and they had already forgotten about it.

At the time, Lisa Zhou was a college senior in Heilongjiang province, applying for graduate programs in the U.S., and she recalled the difficult decision process her family had faced.

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Hongxiang Huang is a freelance journalist based in New York. He writes regularly on his personal site, I Stand in the Dark, Welcoming the First Light.

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