China began favoring competent foreigners who matched several predetermined criteria as early as 2004. In 2008, the Thousand Talents Program was started to aggressively attract skilled professionals to engage in cutting-edge research, innovation, and the establishment of high-tech startups in China.

Also, the Chinese government began implementing measures in 2015 to simplify the application processes for visas and residence permits and expand immigration services for foreign groups above. 

But now foreigners gradually disappear from China. “When are you leaving?” has become the most common question when foreigners in China meet up these days. 

According to preliminary results of the 2020 National Census of China, there were over 845,000 foreigners and additional residents of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan – a total of over 1,400,000 immigrants. It accounted for 1%. 

As intereconomics reports, this is a meager share not only compared to Western countries such as the United States (15.4%) but also compared to China’s East Asian neighbors Japan (2.0%) or even compared to the similarly populous India (0.4%)

The number of foreigners living in China continues to decline due to Chinese COVID-19-related restrictions.

Since March 2020, traveling in and out of the country has become more challenging due to border controls and quarantine protocols.

The restrictions imposed included more complex and time-consuming application procedures than before, restrictions on the issuance of visas, strict vaccination requirements, and quarantine requirements after arrival in China.

Strict travel restrictions have persisted despite some adaptations in response to the changing global pandemic.

According to the Financial Times, in 2021, mainland Chinese residents’ journeys into or out of China fell 79% from the previous year. The percentage of foreign nationals dropped even more dramatically to just 4.6% of the 2019 level.

In August, a German Chamber of Commerce (AHK) survey concluded that one-quarter (25.4%) of foreign workers had departed China since 2019. Because of China’s zero-COVID policy, just under a quarter of German enterprises (22.4%) expect a decrease in employees from overseas.

Another survey targeting foreigners in China was conducted in April. 85% of the 950 foreigners under lockdown stated that the lockdown had caused them to reevaluate their future in China. Furthermore, 22% and 26% of respondents, respectively, desire to leave China as soon as feasible or within a year. Only 15% of respondents said they still intended to live in China permanently.

China’s ruthless and often chaotic implementation of zero-COVID has stirred considerable resentment. In Shanghai, which has the title of an international metropolis, people have not been able to get enough food for weeks. Patients cannot seek medical treatment. Children are forcibly separated from their parents, and the elderly living alone have died unexpectedly.

So when Shanghai lifted the lockdown mid-year, there was a wave of foreigners leaving China. David Culver is one of them. 

David Culver shared his journey of overcoming many obstacles and leaving with a pet dog after over 50 days of high-pressure lockdown in Shanghai.

In the CNN video report, David showed scenes of resistance and conflict under the extreme lockdown.  

David confirmed the strictness of the lockdown measures with Anderson Cooper on CNN. He said that one person diagnosed would result in residents of an entire apartment being forcibly taken to an isolation center.

In addition, David met some foreigners at the airport. They lived in China for 5 to 10 years and confirmed with David that it was time to leave the mainland. 

David wrote in his article that once foreigners stepped out of the gate, they wouldn’t come back. 

David said almost all passengers on the plane were grateful for leaving China, and everyone had an “escape story.”

He said he could hear the flight attendant comforting a fellow passenger seated a few behind him, “You’re out, and you’re safe now.” 

D.W. said that on a Saturday morning when it used to be busy, there were only three or five patrons at a bar that expatriates frequented for its home-brewed beer, hamburgers, and pizza. In the past, foreigners lived in the area, but it is now empty. 

The pandemic restrictions and the economy going down are also driving foreign investment away from China, leading to leaving of experts.

German media DW estimates that the number of international businesses and experts stationed in China has decreased to less than half of what it was before 2020. 

The South China Morning Post reported that Japan’s Toshiba, U.K.’s SuperDry, and H&M left China as those firms were “convinced that better opportunities lie elsewhere.”

Also, South Korea’s retail behemoth Lotte has officially exited China. The company focuses on the Southeast Asia market, including Indonesia and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, the E.U. Chamber of Commerce in China recently conducted a flash survey with 372 European companies operating in China. 

Nearly 23% of them were considering a move out of China. This is the highest proportion in a decade. Meanwhile, 78% don’t find China appealing for investment. 

AmCham president Michael Hart told CNBC in May, “If you want investment, you have to allow for travel. Two, three, four years from now, I predict a massive decline in investment in China because no new projects are being teed up because people can’t come in and look at space.”

In addition, China’s military threats against Taiwan have escalated, fueling concerns among foreign companies. Some companies have begun to talk more openly about the risks.

Harry Moser is the founder and president of the Reshoring Initiative, a project to support the American manufacturers to bring manufacturing back into U.S. According to Voice of America, Moser said that after Russia invaded Ukraine, more and more foreign companies were worried that the Chinese regime would attack Taiwan by force, so they are asking how to withdraw investment from China back into America. 
Moser told Voice of America, “A year or two ago, I got hardly any calls, and now I get a lot of calls, and although I didn’t ask them, I could hear from their words that someone in the management said, ‘Move the job out of China.'”

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