The China Daily reported today that “China will speed up the exploration of immigration policies this year to attract skilled foreign workers.” The funny thing is that the article doesn’t mention why China, one of the most populous nations on earth, is suffering a worker shortage other than an “aging population.” China has dug itself a hole it won’t be able to dig out of anytime soon.
The one-child policy has deprived China of not only a generation of daughters who could have entered the workplace, but also of possible second or third sons. While the country is working on loosening the policy by allowing a few more people to have two children, even abolishing the policy altogether would not solve the workforce crisis. It will take several generations to undo the damage the policy has already done (and this is just one aspect; the one-child policy has negatively affected nearly every aspect of Chinese life).
China’s education system is also severely lacking. The gaokao produces nothing but mindless automatons unable to think for themselves or approach problems creatively. Even China’s English education programs, a multi-billion dollar industry, are severely lacking. Many non-teaching multinational companies have resorted to hiring foreigners or outsourcing their English customer service departments to places like the Philippines because it is so hard to find local people with functional English.
China has also recently tightened its visa laws, which have sent hundreds, if not thousands, of foreign workers back to their home countries. The visa laws have always been ridiculously difficult. The country didn’t even have a “green card” program until 2002, even for spouses of Chinese nationals. Even now, spouse visas do not allow the foreign spouse to work or own a business. China also does not offer any retirement visas, which would allow people who spent their lives accruing money overseas to spend the money here. Retirement visas are not a good deal for Western economies, but expat retirement has been growing in popularity for decades and it is something people are doing anyway. Why should Mexico and Thailand get all that sweet retirement money when China could get a cut spent directly into its economy? The last two-years the country has spent sending a few crappy English teachers back is time the country could have been using to make the country more inviting for foreigners. By now “speeding up the process,” they are swimming against the current of what the government has been doing for the last two years. The country needs to work on recruiting immigrants, and not just expats, and become a place where people actually are members of the country and community and will stay long-term.
Long story short, China’s solution to the employment crisis to look to foreigners is a bit ridiculous and shortsighted. China can’t keep looking for outsiders to solve their problems. China needs to look at its own problems, its lack of workers, its poor education, and its treatment of foreigners, to grow and improve their own workforce organically.