Booming economy draws Chinese migrants home

Booming economy draws Chinese migrants home

Booming economy draws Chinese migrants home

Updated 16 November 2012, 1:39 AEST

While many Chinese leave in search of a better environment and lifestyle, a growing number of migrants are now returning home.

The New York Times recently described a surge in the number of young Chinese professionals emigrating despite the country's booming economy.

Economic growth has lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty, but it has brought heavy pollution, food safety problems and a culture of materialism.

Lu Wang, 34, and her husband Lee Yangang, 35, emigrated from Beijing to Sydney a year ago to escape the downsides of China's rapid industrial development.

"I worry about food and the environment and children's education. Air is very bad, especially in winter. People... maybe can't breathe," Ms Wang told Lateline.

"In my opinion, my country is focused on economics, GDP and not focused on people's lives," Mr Yangang said.

"I don't want my children to always focus on how much money you can earn."

Chinese immigration to Australia dates back to the gold rushes of the 19th century, but it did not really take off until the late 1980s and early 1990s.

That was due to the Tiananmen Square massacre, but also a loosening of restrictions in China on overseas travel.

China is now Australia's second largest source of immigrants behind India, with 25,500 new arrivals in the 2011-12 financial year.

But in stark contrast to Indian migrants, an estimated 25 per cent of Chinese arrivals only spend a few years here before returning home.

Graeme Hugo from the Australian Population and Migration Research Centre says there are a number of reasons behind that statistic.

"The things impelling that obviously are partly cultural and attachment to family and so on," he said.

"But it's also the booming Chinese economy that very much now skilled young people can obtain jobs which are similar in salary and status and so on in China as they could in Australia."

Push and pull

Mandarin teachers Yvonne Liu and Betty Zhao both want to stay in Australia, citing the great weather and relaxed lifestyle.

But they say many of their friends from the Middle Kingdom never really settle in the Land Down Under.

"The shops close here at five. They kind of like a big city feeling, like the thrill in the big cities," Ms Zhao said.

"They stay here and just eating Chinese food, always eating Chinese food, meeting the new Chinese people here," Ms Liu said.

"Why not try a little bit totally different, new? Just meet Aussie people."

Professor Hugo predicts the coming decades will see the flow of migrants between Australia and China actually start to reverse.

"I think it's going to become much more complex," he said.

"In fact I've been invited by the Chinese Government to go to a meeting later this year where they're looking at the development of a skilled migration program of their own so that they can attract skilled migrants, not necessarily returning Chinese, but people from other countries to fill skill gaps in the Chinese economy."

With another 87 years of the so-called "Asian Century" to go, China's influence on Australia is only going to grow.

But as China's next generation of leaders takes charge, some Chinese hope their homeland can learn from Australia's more relaxed approach to life.

"To be honest, I don't worry about who is the leader in China," Mr Yangang said.

"I just worry about who can keep the Chinese people living better and better. Not richer and richer, just better and better. You know, there's a difference."