Emigration from China: A Sending Country Perspective

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Abstract

This paper aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the policies pursued by the People's Republic of China (PRC) regarding the emigration of Chinese nationals. Most of the available literature on migration management has focused on receiving countries. With a few exceptions, little attention has been directed at migration management policies pursued in countries of origin. In the case of the PRC, policies regarding overseas Chinese have been fairly well documented and researched, but very little has been written about how the Chinese authorities manage ongoing emigration flows. This gap becomes particularly salient as the importance of the “partnership with the countries of origin” in devising migration policies is being increasingly acknowledged by receiving countries in Europe (Commission of the European Communities, 2000).

Over the last 20 years, there have been significant changes in the Chinese Government's policies and perspectives on emigration. But, just like most other governments, the Chinese authorities do not have a single blanket policy covering all categories of emigrants. Emigration is normally managed on a case-by-case basis and the Government's attitude toward the same type of emigration may vary depending on different cases and circumstances. Because of this, this article examines China's major emigration-related policy spheres one by one. Specifically, six issues will be discussed: (1) exit control; (2) diaspora policy; (3) student migration; (4) labour export; (5) regulations on emigration agencies and, finally (6) the Government's response to human smuggling.

This article shows both the coherence and the fragmentation in China's policies toward emigration. The coherence is due to the fact that all the policies are inherently linked to China's overall economic and social development strategy. The emigration management regime is sometimes fragmented partly because emigration consists of different streams and is handled by different Government departments, partly because some emigration issues (such as regulations on emigration agents) are very new for the Chinese Government and the authorities are still exploring them. Overall, the Chinese authorities increasingly see emigration as a means to enhance China's integration to the world and are keen to avoid conflicts with the international community over migration issues. At the same time, China's emigration policies need to be more balanced, in particular, the emigration of unskilled labour should be given more priority.

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