Chinese Immigration: Expats vs Immigrants

Published on Author dowdr17

China continues to attract new people from around the globe to move to its big cities, such as Beijing, Hong King and Shanghai. Often, they share the same incentive of making a living, while leaving behind family at home. Though many commonalities exist, their status of migration in China is separated between “expats” and “immigrants.” Recently, this distinction has sparked a debate over whether or not the terms are outdated and what they really stand for.

640x0Commonly, those moving to China from the US and Europe are called expatriates. On the other hand, those hailing from the Middle East are termed as immigrants. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “expatriate” as “someone living in a foreign land,” and “immigrant” as “a person who comes to a country to take up a permanent residence.” Today, many people believe that these terms more symbolize race, privilege and socioeconomic status.


Moreover, a debate exists over how white people, commonly termed expats, are treated above others. In China, this segregation can be seen largely in the school system, which emphasizes the distinctions of the two descriptions. Additionally, professional expats in large cities could earn permanent residency after seven years, with full rights and protections. For immigrants, to be granted such status is very uncommon.

Companies that network for people living abroad, expats in particular, claim that those from the US and Europe typically have higher qualifications and educational backgrounds. Also, those that lack the desire to integrate with Chinese culture are more commonly branding themselves as expats. Therefore, the distinctions may not be totally be linked with race, as many expats in China today are from very diverse backgrounds and differ in skin color.

2 Responses to Chinese Immigration: Expats vs Immigrants

  1. Huh, ex-pats can get hukou and permanent residence status? but not ….professionals from India hired in as regular IT workers? As it happens, as we would expect from models of network migration, there is one such communities in a city that is otherwise of little note (that is, I’d never heard of it, and don’t remember the name — it is not a provincial capital, albeit it does have a couple million residents).

  2. I find this to be very interesting. China already has a very large population, but it is on the decline. In 30 years I’ll be interested to see what the breakdown is when it comes to percentage of residents in cities. Will the immigrant and expat populations ever rival that of the natural born Chinese?