Zhang Jialing, a 24-year-old “haigui” who returned to China to find work, has been disappointed in her job search. After attending two tests and four interviews, Zhang found her master’s diploma from the UK isn’t that valuable.

Finding a job is the top priority for Zhang’s family. To get her an occupation, Zhang’s parents have drawn on every connection they have. Zhang was introduced for openings as a bank sales representative or intern.

She rejected them all because she said the jobs “didn’t fit her career path.”

Zhang doesn’t think she is asking too much: her goal is a 6,000-yuan salary and Beijing hukou.

“If I can’t find such a job, why would I waste money and time going to United Kingdom?” Zhang said.

Unpromising Prospect

In April, Chinese news sites were abuzz with the story of a young woman who graduated from a top Korean university who lost her cool at a job fair.

After years of studying abroad, she was offered a 1,600-yuan salary to teach Korean in a Beijing school. The news sucked millions of returning students back into reality: the diploma they invested in were not worth nearly as much as they imagined.

Nana (pseudonym) used to have a job that paid 15,000 yuan per month. Two years ago, she resigned to pursue a graduate program in the United Kingdom that wiped out her savings and put her in debt. Six months before graduation, Nana began to look for work in China. She hoped her degree would ensure a salary boost.

“I was told my new job only paid 8,000 yuan before tax,” she said. “It includes unfixed work hours and frequent business trips. I was asked to be prepared for a 16-hour weekday work schedule every day.”

Nana ultimately decided to establish her own business with friends when she returned.

Data from China’s Ministry of Education has shown that by the end of 2015, more than 400 million students went abroad to study with the rate increasing at 19 percent per year.

New Oriental, one of the most famous study-abroad language preparation agencies in China, said 32 percent of the parents behind these students are of ordinary means.

“Going abroad is now common for Chinese students of diverse family backgrounds,” New Oriental wrote.

Reasons

Zhang Tianyi, a postgraduate student returning from Japan, said a lack of work experience is his biggest barrier to finding a job. Before returning China, Zhang has been in Japan for six years.

Zhang told Qilu Daily that many companies he interviewed didn’t recognize his Japanese master’s degree. His Japanese proficiency was also not considered an asset.

“I find I don’t have any advantages except being able to speak Japanese,” Liu said. “Many jobs require years of work experience, which I don’t have.” Many companies told him directly that they don’t need “employees with diplomas from abroad.”

With an increasing number of Chinese students heading out, employers are less interested in attracting the haigui demographic.

Years or decades of life abroad leave many haigui unfamiliar with the domestic job market, even as many of hope to enter foreign-capital enterprises. Lockin China, a recruitment agency for returning students, found that 79.6 percent of its members hoped to find work in a foreign-invested enterprise.

But those businesses are crumbling today.

“Their hiring needs are decreasing, and students returning from abroad don’t have many advantages when compared to the locals,” Lockin China said.

The sheer number of students returning with degrees in finance and accounting has also saturated these fields.

“Finding a job is not hard. The question is how to spot an ideal one,” said Li Hongshuang, an overseas returnee back from Birmingham, England. “Great opportunities are limited. We have to compete with local college graduates and unemployed people with years of experience. It’s a battle in which we have few advantages.”

How to React

Faced up with dire employment conditions, many of the students are pursuing volunteer opportunities. But that is a luxury that only graduates who aren’t strapped for cash can afford.

Liu Zexi, a commentator for Dandelion Critics, said the harsh employment situation might make many families rethink their plans to send their children abroad.

“Students have to consider whether the experience they gain abroad is actually necessary for their future. It needs to be an individual choice, not a trend,” Liu said.

In November, AustCham and the top eight Australian universities, known as the Go8, launched the job hunting platform Aozhouhaigui in Beijing. The website aims to help Australian Chinese returnees find jobs in China.

“Once you decide to return to China, finding a job is the first task. Then you have to come back, because the longer you stay abroad the harder it will be to fit in,” said one graduate who returned from the US to seek work. It took him nearly one year to find his first job in China.

For most haigui, having a clear career blueprint may help to narrow down their job search. Yu Zhongqiu, president of Haiwei Career, advised fresh graduate to avoid flooding the market with their resumes.

“It’s ineffective, especially for postgraduates who lack a clear plan for their career development,” he said.

Karena Hu

About Karena Hu

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Karena was born with the English name Karen but decided to add an “a.” She dreamed of a career in astronomy, but bad scores in physics kept her out of the science department. She seeks other worlds in reading and writing and is a super fan of the Hunger Games trilogy.

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