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Best Practices to Manage Migration: China

Best Practices to Manage Migration: China
Irena Omelaniuk
August 8, 2004

The Cooperative Efforts to Manage Emigration (CEME) project examines ways in which countries of origin, transit, and destination can cooperate to better manage migration. The project focuses on source countries of migration that are in transition to market economies and democratic systems of governance, developments that promise to reduce unwanted migration, and uses study visits to seek best practices for organizing the three R's-recruitment, remittances, and returns-to protect migrants and to reduce emigration pressures and for promoting ongoing cooperation on migration matters between countries of origin, transit and destination.

The CEME trip to the People's Republic of China in June 2005 was organized and supported by the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, and included discussions at the Canadian Embassy, the Ministry of Public Affairs, the Fuzhou offices of the Border Defence Patrol, the detention centre in Fuzhou and the office and the resource restoration plant of an entrepreneur returnee in Beijing. A tour of the areas in and around Fuzhou showed clearly that remittance monies were invested in new ventures and homes.1

China is experiencing all the major trends associated with internal migration and emigration: rapid growth, displacement and increased inequality both across regions and between urban and rural areas. There is increased emigration, particularly of students and other temporary resident categories, more government efforts to manage migration, decreased irregular migration by sea, increased sophistication of fraud, and stronger concrete bilateral cooperation on migration and law enforcement with other countries, particularly Japan, Korea, Australia, Canada, UK, France and USA.

China's migration management challenges are in one sense no different from those of other countries, but they seem more exaggerated given the rapid pace of economic and social change and the sheer scale of population movements. Earlier fears of Chinese hordes spilling over borders as a logical consequence of internal migration seem unfounded. The success of some returning entrepreneurs, and the government's efforts to support this apparently burgeoning "brain circulation", warrants special attention by countries of destination. The entrepreneur visited by the team demonstrated how policies in origin and destination areas can combine in a "co-developmental" way to benefit the returnee, the home community and the government. However, many remittances appear to be on "conspicuous consumption.".

Who leaves and why?
The Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS) reported that migration management has become complex, with rapid growth and rising living standards stimulating more emigration from China, particularly from the area around Fuzhou in Fujian Province, and also of more educated, entrepreneurial Chinese looking for expansion, new technologies, new skills and business opportunities. However, Chinese authorities believe that much of this migration is temporary, not permanent.

The MPS reports that the majority of Chinese go abroad with legal documents, either for tourism, to visit relatives, study or to work/do business (although the Ministry could not corroborate this). Many return, but a large, indeterminate number overstay their visas. The Canadian Embassy observed two migration streams: the unskilled Chinese tend to move internally while the skilled migrate across international borders. The main push/pull factors for international migration are: well-established familial and other networks in the countries of destination; education opportunities for children abroad; relative ease of exit from China nowadays; global business opportunities and for many the quick, easy services provided by smuggler agencies. Tourism has grown-some 20 million Chinese went abroad in 2003, as tourism agreements with destination countries foster and hold in regulate tourist movements.

With some 120 million migrants estimated to be on the move internally, more than 70 per cent being rural-urban movements, there was considerable debate about the potential spill-over to international migration, but little evidence to suggest a significant link between the two. No systematic research has been done on the topic, but research on international migrants indicates that the majority are from the coastal regions of China, not from the hinterland areas from which internal migrants come. Research on internal migration indicates that rather than spill across international borders, the opposite may well be happening, at least in the short term, with rural-to-urban migration helping to take up the slack in some lesser skilled sectors caused by the departure of urban dwellers for other countries.

The economic boom has stimulated migration, but emigration flows is being tempered by such factors as improved tertiary education opportunities in China, and stricter, post September 11, 2001 entry procedures in many destination countries. For the US, there is a five-year backlog in the family migration visa category; and many decide to leave earlier as visitors or students, or simply to enter illegally. For Canada and Australia, there are also lower numbers for the family categories, as the major focus is on skilled migration.

In calendar year 2000, 36,718 PRC nationals became permanent residents of Canada (5,741 were members of the Family Class). This rose to 40,315 in 2001 (6,472 were members of the Family Class) and fell back to 33,231 in 2002 (9,016 were members of the Family Class). In 2003, 36,115 PRC nationals became permanent residents and members of the Family Class accounted for 9,813 of this number. Given the growing proportion of Family Class immigrants globally Canada decided to place a cap on the movement of parents and grandparents to ensure a 60:40 ratio between economic and family class movements. In 2004, the Canadian visa offices in Hong Kong (which deals overwhelmingly with PRC nationals) and Beijing have a combined target of 27,300 economic class visas and 8,270 Family Class visas. Australia issued just over 3,000 family visas in FY 2002/2003, compared with 5,000 five years ago. Compared with this, 9,800 skilled migrant visas were issued in 2002/2003, three times the family visa numbers, and 8.5% of the total skilled migration intake.

There is a high incidence of fraud in both the immigrant and non-immigrant categories reported by the destination countries encountered by the team; a key reason for stricter procedures and high rejections. Canada reported 43% fraud in some areas of the Family Class program - e.g. over-age dependants and adoptions of blood relatives. Canada waives the interview requirement in about 73% of the spousal cases and refuses 18% primarily because they are found to be "marriages of convenience". The refusal rate for student applications has fallen in recent years from 49% in 2002 to 35% in 2004. Canadian embassy staff believe that Canada may be receiving fewer but better applicants.
The refusal rate for business delegations in 2004 has been running at 17%. The Canadian Embassy's Migration Integrity Unit undertakes site visits to collect information and verify documentation; the latter being critical to case determinations, in view of the lack of state control of authenticity of documents in China.

Many who leave are educated, have had a job in China, earned low pay and have children whose education and job prospects they would be enhanced abroad. Scientists and science researchers still have fewer opportunities in China, and are attracted by the greater opportunities to pursue research in line with their own interests in the USA and other foreign countries For the USA, they often apply for B1/B2 visas and then adjust status.

Once in the destination country, many over-stay their visas and become illegal; many apply for asylum. For Canada, China was the fourth largest source country of asylum seekers in 2002; the fifth largest in 2003, and to date apparently the third largest in 2004 (Canadian Embassy statistics). But, as MPS also pointed out in its claims that destination country policies may also need to be reviewed, there is a high asylum approval rate in Canada (76%), which may act as an incentive. Australia reported that, despite a drop in overstay rates, China was third on its list of overstayers.

Chinese Overseas Students and Tourists
Tourism to the countries under discussion was generally not high but growing. Canada receives around 120,000 (in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong) visitor applications a year, mostly for business purposes, and going abroad for business is one way for Fujianese to transit to the US and other destinations. Australia expects some 160,000 Chinese tourists in 2004 alone, and has experienced a rapid growth rate of up to 20% in recent years (from DIMIA, Canberra). The Australian Tourism Forecasting Council predicts that by 2010, there may be up to half a million Chinese tourists visiting the country annually. The Approved Destination Status Agreement (ADS) with China, and primarily covers the terms of tourist entry to Australia, plays a big role in this. The ADS has just been expanded to cover 9 provinces/regions in China.

According to an editorial in the China Daily (6 July, 2004), China has signed similar ADS agreements with some 26 countries around then world, and by 1 September 2004 this number is expected to grow by a further 27 European countries. The article explains that travel abroad has increased because last year GDP surpassed USD1,000 per capita and total foreign currency savings of Chinese residents topped USD90 billion. Also, since February 2002, people no longer need to produce letters from overseas groups in order to get permission from local public security authorities to travel abroad. "Passports are available on demand and citizens can join outbound tourism groups." "Last year, there were 20.2 million outbound Chinese tourists, despite the impact of the SARS crisis..." The article explains "Chinese tourists were not allowed to travel to the European Union(EU) in the past except for Germany. People had to travel on different types of visas, such as for business or family visits."2

Study abroad is one of the four main reasons for Chinese emigrating; and is increasingly used as a springboard for more permanent migration. It is also fraught with fraud, both of travel and other supporting documentation. Chinese students increasingly account for the largest numbers of temporary migrants for many destination countries. While generally still considered a growth sector for many destination countries, the numbers have been declining for some, such as USA, Canada, NZ and Ireland, in part following stringent control measures introduced after September 11, 2001. They are growing elsewhere, such as for Australia, and generally shifting towards Europe.

For Australia, China is the biggest source of overseas students, - 14,215 visas in 2002/2003; and 18,000 in 2003/2004 of the total 100,000 visas issued a year. Most of them are undergraduates; but there is also a growing school sector. Add to this some 25,000 Chinese who study at Australian educational institutes within China. This makes Australia the highest per capita recipient of Chinese students, both in-and out-of-country. Australia also claimed to be the number one provider of overseas education within China.

The Australian Skilled Migration program has a provision for overseas students, and as a result, many Chinese students are able to change their status to permanent residence and work in Australia. In all, 40% of Australia's skilled migrants are now drawn from the overseas student caseload. This is also the trend in Canada, US and Europe, although still not on the same scale.

In the UK, the overwhelming number of Chinese migrants are students. In FY 2002/2003, there were 22,161 student applications, and a visa issuance rate of 73%. In 2003/2004, there were 22,828 applications and an issuance rate of 63%. UK colleagues in Beijing report that while the travel documents are usually genuine, the biggest problem are forged documents relating to educational qualifications and institutions, bank statements, stock market forms, employment records etc. A number of students end up in the asylum pipeline, and some sell their multiple entry visas. The UK hopes to enter an ADS agreement with China this year, and is seriously debating the possibility of issuing only single entry/fixed period visas, to avoid recycling of multiple entry visas.

The UK does not expect any notable increase in student numbers in the future, as Chinese students now have more opportunities to study at universities in China. This generally does not fit with other indications that Chinese interest in study is shifting from the traditional destination countries to Europe. According to IOM research (ref. IOM Research and Publications Division), some 20% of Chinese students were studying in Europe a few years ago - mainly in the UK, Germany and France (only 30% of them ever returning home): In Germany, Chinese apparently accounted for the third largest foreign student group in 2000/2001.

In the US, student numbers are down, and there are fewer self-funded students from China. A major deterrent has been the tightening of criteria and procedures by the US, particularly after September 11. The Embassy in Beijing anticipates some 22,000 applicants in 2004, with a likely visa issuance rate of 70%. This is a reduction over previous years. The Embassy reports that there are currently some 68,000 Chinese students in the US, of which 75% are likely to stay.

There is a higher prevalence of graduate study by Chinese in the US than in any other destination country. The numbers are down, but the quality is up. There is a high prevalence of document fraud - up to 30% of applications - or the use of valid documents (e.g. for MBA "refresher" courses) and over-stay. US authorities are moving to more monitoring and reporting by the universities and educational institutes on the behaviour and regular status of students - a method already applied in Australia. Numbers have been dropping in the US: 17,000 applications in 2001; and only 8,000 for the first 6 months in 2004.

In Canada, most Chinese students are undergraduates or ESL candidates. The primary concern is overstaying, with many students either wending their way to New York or entering the Canadian asylum system (250 claimants in 2003). With such high numbers of immigrants, tourists and students applying for Canada every year, and the prevalence of document fraud, Canadian and Chinese interlocutors have set up a multi-departmental Canada-China Working Group (established after the arrival of four Chinese boats on the west coast of Canada in 1999). The Ministry of Public Security represents the Chinese side, while Canada is represented by Citizenship and Immigration, the recently constituted Canadian Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A wide range of issues are discussed.

As interest grows in study options in Europe, and the European states increasingly seize the student market opportunities, the latter are also strengthening their document checking and fraud control mechanisms. The team learned through the contact of one of its members with senior French Embassy officials in Beijing, that the Embassy has created a special agency to check Chinese student applications. Each application costs EUR300, and the money is used to hire Chinese and French employees to check the documents and assess the academic background and project. By Embassy accounts, fraud in this area seems to have decreased from 40% to 10%. The German Embassy apparently has the same kind of mechanism.

The special case of Fujian

Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province, is a major source for migrants to countries like the US, and beneficiary of migrant remittances (and allegedly also smuggler profits). Economic growth clearly stimulates out-migration, mostly of Fujianese who have relatives and contacts in the US and elsewhere, and leave with proper documents, but over-stay once abroad, and/or enter the asylum systems. Many also travel with false documents. Travel agencies play a large part in this, as do the transport agencies, who are subject to criminal sanctions if caught.

But Fujian's growth also attracts increasing numbers of irregular immigrants. The economic strength of Fujian attracts investment from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and other countries, which in turn boosts Fujian's visitor statistics - and with these, illegal immigration. Since 2002, the Border Defence Force has apprehended ca. 2000 illegal entries and overstayers in the province, many from Iran, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

There are more than 80 counties in Fujian, but most irregular migrants are from 2 or 3, each with more than 20 towns, and each town covers up to 20 administrative villages. It is difficult to gauge the exact number of exits/entries of the province. Policy and practice are divided between the Entry/Exit Bureau of the MPS and the Border Defence Force of the same Ministry. With 3,000 kilometers of coastline and many thousands of boats, it is difficult to monitor and record all entries and exits.

The provincial director of the Border Defence Force judged that international emigration from this area could be explained partly by surging incomes, which enabled many to afford the high costs related to international migration (whether regular or irregular), but partly also by the in-migration from other provinces, as some counties in Fujian were still quite poor and backward. The team assessed that the extent and direction of causal links between internal and international migration still required considerably more research.

Internal and International Migration
There appears to be less of a flow-on from internal to external emigration than may be feared by countries of destination. Discussions with a Chinese researcher, Dr Xiang3, confirmed that the major places of origin for internal migration (Sichuan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Henan, Gansu etc) have hardly produced any international migration. But the most important places of origin for international migration (Zhejiang, Fujian and to some extent Guangdong provinces) are among the key places of destination for internal migration. This is also borne out by other ongoing research in this area4

Large-scale internal migration began in the late 1980s, and international emigration from China resumed at the end of the 1970s and increased significantly after 1986 with a new law that relaxed exit control. Thus both internal and international migration have been growing for more than 2 decades now; however, to date the two streams have developed along separate lines.

The researcher reported that there are some new trends in both internal and international migration. Internally, more hinterland places are now involved in migration, though from early 2004 with the implementation of favourable rural policies, some migrants have started returning to their home places to resume farming activities. Internationally, some new emigration communities have appeared in places without international migration (most notably northeast China), but the new migrants are mainly urban-based citizens with medium to high level education. Again, this shows that in terms of future trends, the two migration streams are likely to remain separate: different types of people involved in internal or international migration.

Dr Xiang's long-term fieldwork in one of the largest places of origin of Chinese immigrants to Europe, Wenzhou prefecture, Zhejiang province, southeast China, suggests that even within one county, one township may specialise in internal migration and the other in international mobility.

The two streams do converge in some cases: a) Merchants in the migrant community in Beijing (mainly garment producers and traders from Zhejiang province in Southeast China), some travelling to Russia, Mongolia and other East European countries to sell their products. This trend continues now, but the size is relatively small. B) Highly skilled, who often move to big cities first and then find opportunities to go overseas. C) International migration leads to internal migration to fill the vacancies; this is almost universal across the world and may not be of great policy concern. D) Organised labour export, in cases such as seafarers and labourers to the Middle East (particularly Israel), Far East Russia, Korea and reportedly Mongolia. Some persons who could have become internal migrants may instead have embarked on international migration through this means.

The team felt there were many issues where the information and knowledge were deficient. The team saw great potential for exploring the internal/international migration nexus further, and particularly how China could fare better with organised labour exports - a rather under-researched topic.

The Government and Irregular Migration

Following the surge in boat arrivals in Australia, Canada and the US in the late 1980s/early 90s, and the September 11 bombings, the government demonstrably increased efforts to reduce irregular Chinese migration in recent years. Laws covering the control of irregular migration have been strengthened5; and the passport law is also about to be amended. Document production has been enhanced, with improved security features, especially in the new passport that came into use in 1999, and generally stronger IT applications. Information campaigns have been launched, using media, lectures, village discussions etc to inform people about the risks of irregular migration. Detention facilities have been upgraded; and a joint Committee for Anti-Illegal Migration set up, involving the Public Prosecutor, MPS, MFA and Ministry of Civil Affairs.

But the government has focused most of its control efforts on the sea borders, as it is easier to control irregular migration by sea than by air. By the end of the 90s, a marine police team was formed, and management control resources and mechanisms at the borders were strengthened.

MPS reports great success in controlling potential irregular migration through its emigration checks at the sea borders. There have been virtually no irregular migrants arriving in Australia, Canada or Europe by boat in recent years; and fewer fake documents are coming to light, either as a result of modern technology or better fake documents.

MPS reported that during its concerted campaign against irregular migration in and out of China in the 6 month period Oct 2003 - March 2004, there were approximately 5,500 Chinese attempting to leave in an irregular way (fake or no documents) and around 5,000 attempting to enter China illegally (e.g. from Vietnam, Pakistan, North Korea, Burma).

Regarding smuggling and trafficking, there have been repeated strikes in main source areas, targeting the organizers (loosely termed "snake heads" by the authorities). Countless seminars and information campaigns have been held, and legislation against smuggling and trafficking strengthened. Persons convicted of organizing smuggling or trafficking can be fined or, if convicted, sentenced to 2, 5, 10 years or life imprisonment. Where possible, finances owing to the victims are recovered from the organizers. There was little confirmation of larger efforts at confiscating assets, which, it was reported, would in any case go back into public revenue, and not into any further supportive efforts in this area. MPS reported that the organizers can be a mixture of locals and migrants abroad, most of ethnic Chinese origin.

The Border Defense Force in Fuzhou also reported that rewards are now offered for information and assistance in capturing smugglers or traffickers. Last year some 50-80,000 Yuan were paid per informant for 10 such cases.

Both the law and practice show a clear preference for punishing the perpetrators rather than the victims, including the smugglees, who are often sufficiently badly treated by the smugglers as to be victims. Nevertheless, both MPS in Beijing, and its border defense force unit in Fuzhou confirmed that returnees who left with fraudulent or no documents, or in some way violated Chinese law in immigrating illegally to other countries can be punished (up to 6 months in jail), educated and monitored after return. Canadian Embassy colleagues informed that Canada deports hundreds of Chinese every years, mostly without escort and fanfare, as this is both quicker and easier; and tends to go unnoticed and unpunished by the authorities.

Statistics on irregular Chinese migration are virtually impossible to obtain, because so much of the "illegality" or "irregularity" occurs at destination after the migrants have left China with proper documents (passport and visa) and under a regular temporary immigration program. Also, there are innumerable fake documents that are never brought to light. This information would need to be gathered at the destination end.

From statistics provided by MPS, in the period 1991-2003, some 38,691 persons were captured trying to migrate illegally, and 6,149 organizers were caught and punished. Some eight organizers have apparently received life sentences. The Border Defense Force in Fujian advised that in 2003 some 750 smuggling organizers/transporters were arrested and imprisoned; among them a number of foreign snake heads, from e.g. the US, South Korea and Singapore. While China does not strictly distinguish between smuggling and trafficking of migrants, there is a difference in the severity of punishment. Smugglers are usually fined or imprisoned for 2-7 years, or for life, depending on the seriousness of the offense6. Trafficking in persons can attract the death penalty.

The Border Defense Force in Fuzhou is also increasingly confronted with irregular immigrants at the borders, hailing from countries in the larger Asian region such as Vietnam, North Korea and Pakistan. Most do not have valid ID and travel documents. The Vietnamese and Pakistanis are seldom imprisoned, but simply quickly repatriated. The BDF claims to enjoy good law enforcement cooperation with neighbouring countries, particularly on ID checking at borders.

Bilateral forms of cooperation in combating migrant smuggling have been established or strengthened with more than 40 other countries, in particular countries of destination. China has especially good cooperation arrangements with Australia, Canada, UK, Netherlands, Japan, Germany, France and Italy. An agreement exists between France and China for exchange of police, and similar cooperative arrangements exist between China and Japan. An MPS liaison officer has been seconded unofficially to the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa for several years and two MPS officers will shortly be officially assigned to Canada. In 2003, 3 experts from MPS were sent to the UK to work with Home Office counterparts in identifying Chinese illegals for eventual removal. Through direct interviews with the migrants, local dialects could be identified; and some 60 persons were deported. Joint operations with the Japanese authorities in 2001 resulted in the capture of 100 smuggling organizers.

MPS reiterated the need for countries of destination to change their approach and policies to irregular migration, so that there is less encouragement to stay illegally. Some aspects of current policy in destination countries are problematic. In the case of the Dover deaths, for example, the UK authorities knew about the illegals, but preferred, for reasons of economies of scale, to address the problem at the back end, after the migrants had been through all available options, and their deportation was more assured. At earlier stages of the migration experience this is less possible. Also, multiple entry visas for temporary categories have tended to encourage multiple re-cycling of visas.

To better monitor irregular Chinese migration, the UK and Netherlands were testing the finger-printing of applicants in China; and the Chinese government was also starting to test finger-printing both for Customs control and business facilitation purposes in South China. When asked if the government was intending to use finger-printing for migration management purposes, MPS was doubtful, claiming the government was more concerned to protect personal privacy at this stage.

The Government and Regular Migration
MPS claims to have issued 300,000 passports in 2003, but for a complete picture, one would need to add the "public affairs" passports issued by MFA in the same year. There is no clear evidence that all holders of such documents actually traveled, and judging by the visas issued by countries of destination in any given year, this in no way reflects either the level of interest or actual engagement in travel abroad. It can only be a reflection of new interest in such emigration. Actual departures from China could only be gauged by a systematic assembly of visa and entry statistics from countries of destination.

One progressive way for the government to address the issue of irregular migration has been to facilitate and promote legal, regular forms of migration, e.g. by simplifying application procedures for passports, and by signing cooperation agreements with countries of destination, such as the Approved Destination Status Agreements (ADS) on tourism with Australia and some 27 others around the world. These can be accompanied by cooperation on identifying illegal migrants, such as between UK and China.

While principally an agreement on tourism flows between China and Australia, the ADS agreement helps to foster legitimate forms of migration to a country that in the past experienced high levels of non-return of Chinese visitors and students; and now enjoyed among the lowest non-return levels of all destination countries. The agreement combines in a balanced way few controls up front and high visa issuance rates with travel agency accountability and strict monitoring of departures via travel agency accountability.

Detention Centre in Fuzhou

The main Fujian detention centre just outside Fuzhou can accommodate up to 300 persons - both foreigners caught entering the country illegally and Chinese returning from illegal migration activities abroad. Managed by the Border Defense Force, the centre is intended to detain persons returned and those awaiting the outcome of administrative investigation for up to 15 days. It offers information, awareness raising through newspapers, TV and discussions, recreation, medical attention and individualized "ideological education". The team was told that detainees are allowed 1-3 hours "free activity" every day, and that their dietary needs are taken into account.

The centre has on a number of occasions been presented as a model to immigration officials (including Ministers) from Australia, Canada and the US. It appeared clean, well kept and managed; but was unoccupied at the time of the CEME visit (indeed seemed only to have housed some 200 occupants in the year). It offers excellently presented displays of its history, including distinguished visits from other countries, and a rousing documentary video of its purpose, history and operation.

The team found the centre to be a conspicuous demonstration by the government to the world of how heavily it is investing in combating irregular forms of migration. However, given that the centre was unoccupied, the team speculated about how much it was actually used for the purposes and to the extent claimed.

Circular Migration - Turning Night Soil into Pay Dust

Mr J. C. Yu, an entrepreneur who had returned to China after studying and working in Canada for 10 years and acquiring Canadian citizenship. Mr Yu, an Environmental Engineer with a Masters Degree from the University of Alberta, clearly hailed from an educated, well-to-do family. His sister also apparently attained her qualifications in Organic Chemistry in Canada. His brother, a geophysicist, chose to remain in China. Mr Yu appeared to straddle the interests of both siblings - personal development abroad, and national development at home.

It appears that the governments of both countries of residence helped him achieve a convergence of these aspirations - wittingly or unwittingly.

Mr Yu had the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time, and seizing the opportunity as it arose. In Canada, he profited from the "amnesty" policies after the Tiananmen Square events of 1989, and could acquire Canadian citizenship, which gave him the confidence and empowerment to return to China 10 years later and try his luck with new qualifications and skills from abroad. When, after studying and working in the environmental protection area in Canada for years, he was unable to realize his entrepreneurial dreams there, he seized the new opportunities presenting themselves in China in 2000.

Mr Yu returned to China in 2000 and opened up a business in solid waste management, setting up a "Resource Recovery Centre" in Beijing, in response both to a general urgent need to upgrade this facility in that vast metropolis, and to specific needs of the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing. The Centre helps service the 8,000 public toilets in Beijing, and successfully combines immediate utility with future planning. The night soil processing plant rids the city of its waste, restores the basic resources water and soil, and produces methane gas to power the centre. It thus serves multiple purposes for the community, the government, other businesses and the entrepreneur himself: solid waste management, water restoration (sold to a nearby cement factory), clean earth production (for local landfill) and power generation. It thus also serves a range of general sanitation and ecological purposes.

The association between Mr. Yu and the Chinese government is indicative of current trends in China. The technology used in the plant (which is only one of 10 processing waste from Beijing) was developed by Mr. Yu, and, in his words, is the most efficient applied to date in China. The plant was designed and built under the responsibility of Mr. Yu and his private company, which now has an operating contract with the government of Beijing. The plant, however, is government-owned. But, in addition to the operation fee, he has rights to additional profits made from the sale of fertilizer and other by-products. The team wanted to find out whether the Chinese government was providing financial incentives for returning Chinese professionals to help them get established in China, and Mr. Yu said he had asked for such incentives, and talked to the government about the creation of financial programs for returning migrants, but so far none had been created. With this arrangement, however, there is little need for risk capital from the entrepreneur, and still he is able to make an entrepreneurial profit.

Mr Yu built his business within 2 years, with some basic funding support from the private sector, to a multi-million RMB enterprise employing some 40 workers; and it is growing.. Mr Yu is a celebrity in Beijing and China. He is currently honorable Chairman of the Canada-China Society of Science and Technology. In true reflection of the circular nature of migration in a globalized world, Mr Yu plans to return to Canada and expand his business interests there.

Important in this whole saga is the role that his Canadian citizenship played in giving Mr Yu the confidence to return and "speculate" in his home country at a time of great opportunity, knowing that he could always return to Canada. With this policy, the Canadian government is indirectly fostering a "co-development" scenario to the advantage of the country of origin. The Chinese government has also played a part in this regard by exercising discretion in regard to Mr Yu's dual citizenship status, which strictly speaking is not permissible in China.

While the gains for the migrant and his home community and country seemed clear, the team speculated about the immediate or longer term benefits for the destination country, which had educated the migrant, bestowed citizenship, and then seen him leave to do business in the country of origin. Are destination countries like Canada factoring this kind of circular migration into their migration/development policy thinking and planning?

It is also unclear how representative this case is of the experience of the majority of return migrants. The Beijing municipal government is undertaking an assessment of the impact of the considerable incentives - subsidized loans, tax breaks, etc. - offered to returning entrepreneurs in recent years. But, given the number of sectors involved and the lack of a control group of people who did not leave, it is hard to assess the value added by such programs.


Why do migrants continue to choose the "illegal" route over the legal options available to them, particularly in view of the apparent ease with which most people who apply for a passport actually acquire it? Illegal routes involve extraordinary high risks: payments to smugglers/organizers, potential exploitation and further loss of family money, degradation of health, and possible loss of life. It is difficult for Chinese to leave their country without a passport; and often more difficult then to receive it in another country. If caught without a passport, they can be punished by Chinese law. Even the threat of 6 months in detention in Fuzhou sets those "perpetrators" apart from persons who began their migration odyssey with legal documents.

Perhaps the majority of irregular Chinese abroad begin their saga in a regular, documented way, but the rejection rates in regular temporary visa categories still act as an incentive to opt for the illegal route, which if successful can be quicker. They are spurred on by others' success stories, and taken in by the sales pitch of smugglers. High asylum approval rates, such as 76% in Canada, can also be an incentive to irregular immigration and to the use of asylum to prolong stay and gain residence, e.g., some Chinese asylum seekers in Canada are able to acquire a PRC passport and regularly return to China during the asylum process. These kinds of "flexible" circumstances must serve to encourage those wanting to go abroad quickly and illicitly.

Without policy/practice reviews by destination countries, this kind of irregular immigration is unlikely to change much, despite the belief of MPS that Chinese irregular migration will probably reduce in the coming years.

It would also seem that the government's efforts at deterring undocumented emigration, together with eased passport requirements, may have led to an increase in legal migration to third countries of easy entry, which then become departure points for irregular migration to more attractive destinations. MPS officials interviewed in Beijing noted that irregular migration away from third countries was beyond their jurisdiction, and involved foreign smugglers. The team believes this can be best followed up with research in countries of destination.

Emigration is certain to continue, even grow, with the increasing economic strength of China, but so are returns and emigrÇ investments in the country. As the "education export" industries of Australia, Canada, US, Europe et al become more competitive and flexible in their interface with more permanent skilled migration, they will continue to provide an entrÇe to other countries. Economic growth and greater education opportunities in the PRC may slow this down, but the circular migration opportunities opening up through the complementarity of origin-destination policies, as seen with the Yu case, will encourage further out-movement.

The "co-development" benefits to be gained from policies at both origin and destination ends that facilitate such circular migration need more study to determine how much this is actually impacts out-migration from China and the development-needy regions of China; and what the benefits are for the country of destination investing in this "brain gain" for China. An article in the 25 June 2004 edition of the China Daily about the gloomy job prospects for returning overseas students, whose salary expectations have become too high in relation to locally educated graduates, confirm the sense that the re-integration of returnees is not always smooth and that some are having difficulty finding work.

There are also social impacts of the internal migration in China ('rural 'orphans struggle as parents leave in search of jobs'). The Chinese state, despite its size and power, places emphasis on its 'legitimacy', which may be one reason for the government's determination to demonstrate to a wider world that it is tackling the issue of irregular migration.

In general, as a new player in co-managing international migration, the Chinese government has been demonstrative in its efforts to curb irregular migration - mostly since 2000, at the height of the boat movements and attendant anxiety of countries of destination. There have been some measurable results - reduced boat movements and fewer non-return cases from Australia - but little evidence that fraud and overstaying of visas were diminishing. On the contrary, MPS admits that document fraud has become more sophisticated; and that increased captures and convictions of smugglers/traffickers are more attributable to enhanced resources and capacities than to weakening of the fraud industry. But the signals from the government are clear: it, too, has become sophisticated in its methods, and is an increasingly strong dialogue partner to other countries on migration. It has come of age in international migration diplomacy.

In response, the attitude of destination countries to Chinese migration has also changed, becoming more receptive to the mutual benefits to be gained, and relaxing old fears that all Chinese migration is illegal, and likely to flood other countries. Bilateral cooperation frameworks like the ADS agreement between China and Australia are worth watching and emulating, as they base their success in returning irregular migrants and lowering over-stays on the principle that more regular immigration (even of visitors/tourists) can help curb irregular immigration. This approach (albeit largely unproven) can also benefit China in its emerging role as destination country for other immigrants.

Finally, there is a need for more systematic research across sectors and portfolios to gain a more complete picture of the scale and impact of net migration in China. Emigration was the traditional focus of concerned countries of destination, but immigration, and all its attendant illicit facets, seemed to be rising in proportion to the economic growth of China. And the enormous returns to China - of people, skills, investments - need to be measured and weighed against the equally massive needs of this evolving economy. This leaves us with five major questions:
1. What are the connections between China's internal and external migration flows?
2. What are the institutional architecture and longer term planning objectives of the burgeoning labour migration ex China, currently driven disparately by labour agreements, private company initiatives, and individual visa categories offered by destination countries?
3. What does the Chinese experience tell us about the relationship between migration and development (ranging from the "villa envy" phenomenon to returnee enterprises like Mr Yu's)? And has the recent focus on migration-development linkages downplayed the role of cultural and social factors in determining migration movements?
1. 4. What social and political controls are exerted over the smugglers/traffickers? Presumably in a society such as China, these are known to the authorities and to other members of society. (How useful is the "snakehead" concept so widely used in this context? Initially a term for mafia organizers in a broader context, the term is now used more loosely (and not entirely correctly) used to cover all smuggler/trafficker agencies, many of whom in reality are family, small scale, individual operators. Is this to placate western politicians and the media?))
5. How much is transnational migration offering a basis for real cooperation to mutual benefit of both China and countries of destination?

1 The famous multi-level "villas" on the outskirts of Fuzhou, and along the main route between the airport and the city, can cost a migrant's family around RMB300,000 (CAN50,000; USD35,000), the equivalent of more than 41 years of local wages (average monthly wages are RMB600).
2 The China Daily newspaper can be read at :
3 Dr. Biao Xiang is currently working in the COMPAS program in Oxford, and has for years been undertaking field work in one of the largest places of origin of Chinese migrants to Europe, Wenzhou Prefecture, Zhejiang Province, Southeast China, as well as major receiving places of internal migration, Beijing and the Pearl River Delta in south China. He will be engaged over the coming year in research on northeast China.
4 Pieke, Frank N., Paul Nyiri, Mette Thumo and Antonella Caccagno (2004). Transnational Chinese: Fujianese Migration in Europe, Stanford, UP.
5 The detention centre provides information about how in March, 1994, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress introduced supplementary provisions to ensure that the Criminal Law covers the organization of smuggling and illegal transporting of smugglees abroad, with sanctions ranging up to life imprisonment.
6 Life imprisonment would apply where large numbers have been smuggled, and/or in very dangerous circumstances.