Talent hunters mean business

Updated: 2011-07-27 14:39

By Zhang Yuwei (China Daily)

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Firms recruiting top students will be an area of intense competition between China and the US, reports Zhang Yuwei in New York.

Li Yang, a PhD marketing student at Columbia Business School in New York, faces a tough choice when he graduates next year - whether to stay in the United States or return to China to look for a job.

Talent hunters mean business

"Several years ago, the answer would have been simple. Of course, I'd prefer to stay in the US maybe long enough to enjoy some immigration benefits. But now China offers equally competitive opportunities for overseas returnees, which many will consider and accept," said Li, 28, who has been studying in the US for more than six years.

In 2008, the government launched the Thousand Talents Program to improve China's capacity for innovation in the next five to 10 years. It hopes to boost the recruitment of talented people who are willing to return to China for top salaries.

A follow-up initiative, the Thousand Young Talents Program, was set up last year to recruit about 2,000 jobseekers from abroad over the next five years to work in the natural sciences and engineering.

Under the National Medium- and Long-term Talent Development Plan (2010-20) released in June, the government will adopt favorable policies in taxation, insurance, housing, children and spouse settlement, career development, research projects, and government awards for high-caliber overseas Chinese who are willing to work in China.

Talent hunters mean business
Li is encouraged by the programs. "More Chinese students and young professionals around me are considering returning to China. The program is a good start and it shows the government has recognized the role these overseas returnees can play.

"There is not much difference between China and the US in terms of employment opportunities now," he said. "That's where it makes the choice difficult."

More Chinese students have returned home in recent years - 134,800 from the US last year, a 25 percent increase from 2009, according to the Chinese Ministry of Education. While many returned because of the difficulty in obtaining a non-immigrant work visa, it is thought that the better employment prospects in China also played a role.

Shaun Rein, managing director at China Market Research in Shanghai, said most of the people his firm hired in the past two years had gone abroad for business school and returned to China.

Some are benefiting from favorable policies set up by the government, Rein said. "This is a very positive development for China. We need these top-flight students to return home."

Keeping the foreigners

The United States, meanwhile, is trying to keep the foreigners. Speaking in El Paso, Texas, in May, President Barack Obama said an overhaul of US immigration laws is needed to secure highly skilled and high-tech foreign talent.

"So we don't want the next Intel or the next Google to be created in China or India," he said. "We want those companies and jobs to take root here."

In May, the Obama administration extended the Optional Practical Training program to allow students graduating from programs in several dozen additional disciplines, including soil microbiology, pharmaceuticals and medical informatics, to be able to find a job or work up to 29 months (instead of 12) after graduation. The move was intended to address the shortages of scientists and technology experts in some high-tech sectors.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said recently, at a Council on Foreign Relations event in Washington, that "the one thing" that can spur job growth is to encourage more legal immigration to the US.

He said the changes should include allowing foreign graduates from US universities to obtain green cards (permanent residency), ending caps on visas for highly skilled workers, and setting green card limits based on the country's economic needs, not an immigrant's family ties. About 15 percent of all green cards go to employees and their dependents, while the rest go largely to immigrants, families and relatives, Bloomberg said.

Last year more than 70,000 Chinese applicants obtained permanent residency in the US, placing second behind Mexican applicants, according to the US Department of Homeland Security.

"That American dream cannot survive if we keep telling the dreamers to go elsewhere," Bloomberg said. "It's what I call national suicide - and that's not hyperbole."

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