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Beijing eases policy for internships, post-study work in China’s tech centre

New policies put forth by the Beijing authorities will make it easier for international students to work and hold internships in the city’s buzzing tech district, Zhongguancun.

Starting on March 1, foreign students can be given short-term internships, post study word and can start businesses in Zhongguancun, a science and technology area in Beijing’s Haidian district. Photo: Charlie fong

"Most students come with aspirations of doing business or relations work with China from their home countries"

The Ministry of Public Security has announced that from March 1, foreign students will be permitted to have short-term internships and international students studying in Beijing universities can take part-time jobs or become entrepreneurs in the area dubbed China’s Silicon Valley.

The move comes as a welcome relief for educators and students who have struggled to meet the minimum requirements for employment in Beijing: a bachelors degree, two years of work experience outside of China after graduation, and that employers be licensed to hire foreigners.

“Both Beijing and Shanghai are trying to attract the best international students to study in their cities and then stay on”

“Most international students don’t have two years of working experience after they graduate and some local companies are apprehensive to bring on foreigners as interns,” said Jon Santangelo, communications director at the Beijing Overseas Study Services Association.

“However this new policy should be positively received and will hopefully encourage international students to embark on internships, alongside easing the hiring process for employers.”

Internships until now have been easier to secure than work for students enrolled at Beijing universities, according to Kirsty Mattinson, head of International Student Recruitment and Support,  at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool  University, as many have good relationships with local bureaus managing international students’ residence permits.

However, students not studying at a Chinese university often pay thousands of dollars to go through third party internship providers.

“Some international students (and parents) can’t justify paying an exorbitant amount for an internship, but DIY options can be scarce or confusing,” said Santangelo.

Many employers don’t advertise their internship positions and welcome third party agencies to outsource recruitment, he explained, but added that “expat websites with social media accounts on WeChat do feature quality employment opportunities consistently”.

Another challenge for securing work experience in the country is the variance of visa rules by city and region. But, last year, Shanghai announced similar measures to ease employment for foreign providers, signalling growing interest among Chinese government and industry in retaining foreign talent.

“Both [Beijing and Shanghai] are trying to attract the best international students to study in their cities and then stay on – this helps both cities compete globally and forge greater economic and geopolitical connections with sending countries,” commented Mattinson.

“The main sending countries of students to study in China are often key to China’s foreign policy objectives and regional stability.”

The Zhongguancun zone contains 189 listed companies, 40 colleges and universities including Peking University and Tsinghua University and more than 200 national scientific institutions including the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

The park is projected to generate 4tn yuan ($608 bn) in revenue this year, an annual growth of 13%.

“The biggest challenge is the language barrier especially for students who have not been in China for a long time”

However, despite hopes that the the easing of employment rules will spark interest in working in the tech hub, current demand for staying and working in China is low, mostly because of language barriers and opportunities at home.

“It seems to me more international students value the Chinese educational experience more than the opportunities to work or start businesses,” said Chenli Zhang, director of development and career services at Peking University School of Transnational Law, adding, “My feeling is language is the main challenge for them.”

“The biggest challenge is the language barrier, especially for students who have not been in China for a long time,” echoed Mattinson. “Students who have mastered Chinese have infinitely more opportunities and will be much more employable.”

And for many students, studying in China is enough of the leg up they’re looking for to return home and land a better job.

“Most students come to learn Chinese language and culture with aspirations of doing business or relations work with China from their home countries,” said Santangelo. “Few seek work or internships thereafter and often return home upon completing studies.”

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