For 33-year old Shanghai-resident Lucy Lu, it is her children’s education that’s driving her towards Australia.
- A recent vaccine safety scandal prompted many parents in China to express a lack of faith in the country’s inoculations
- The Chinese Yuan has depreciated 6 per cent since June
- Residents are only allowed to move more than $US50,000 out of the country each year
“I feel Chinese education doesn’t let people breathe. The pressure is huge,” she said.
The mother of two, along with her husband, have employed a migration lawyer to plan a move to Australia, possibly to Melbourne.
They are attracted by the good environment, the more “laid-back” school culture and they have a relative who has lived in Australia for 20 years.
But they are also seeking respite from a country where tremendous economic progress has not always meant improvements in other areas.
“Even though China’s economy is very good, there are other aspects where we feel the flaws and holes are still quite large,” Ms Lu said.
Ms Lu cites the hyper-competitive education system — known for rote-learning rather than encouraging critical thinking — and air pollution as her major concerns.
But in recent months, a vaccine safety scandal prompted many parents across China to express a profound lack of faith in the ability of authorities to ensure their children receive safe inoculations.
Adding to concerns is a 6 per cent depreciation of the Chinese Yuan since June in the face of the United States tariff challenge.
As China’s government restricts citizens from moving more than $US50,000 ($69,700) out of the country each year (without special permission), there is also, anecdotally, growing concern about the long-term health of the economy and the value of people’s assets.
“Leaving a very familiar environment with friends and family to move to a completely unfamiliar place is indeed a very big decision,” said Zoe Ye, who moved to Australia four years ago after getting married.
“But when I think about the environment in China and educating my young child, I think living in Australia is not a bad choice at all,” she said.
China’s government does not publicly release figures for the number of citizens emigrating, but last year reported 130 million people went overseas for tourism while 600,000 students left to study abroad.
A 2017 United Nations report lists the number of Chinese migrants who left after 2000 and are still living outside China at 10 million, while China’s government claims there is roughly 50-60 million overseas Chinese — a figure that includes People’s Republic of China citizens and foreign citizens of Chinese ancestry.
Many aim for permanent residency, not citizenship
Last year the Australian government granted more than 28,000 visas to Chinese nationals for permanent migration, down from a peak of more than 29,000 in 2011.
A tightening of visa rules means even if more citizens do seek to start a new life in Australia, it will be more competitive to get a place.
“I believe more people are thinking about moving overseas than taking actual actions”, said Tian Li, a migration agent from the Newstone Group in Melbourne.
Another agent, Vicky Chen of Sydney-based agency New Point says inquiries have been picking up consistently in the past two years.
“Every day I’ll receive at least four or five inquiries from people in China and roughly the same number from people already in Australia,” Ms Chen said.
China does not recognise dual nationality, so many applicants say in the long run they aim to obtain permanent residency rather than to become Australian citizens.
“I’ll need to hear the perspectives of others who have gone over to Australia, and experience life there first”, Ms Lu said.
“As to whether I’d want to get an Australian passport — it’s not easy to answer that question now.”