Expats Abroad: Emerging Opportunities

Fishing at Jade Belt Bridge, Summer Palace, Beijing.

Fishing at Jade Belt Bridge, Summer Palace, Beijing. Photo © Dimitry B., licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Across demographics, financial factors are usually key components in a decision to move overseas, and changes to the global economy have resulted in fluctuations to immigration patterns worldwide. According to data released by the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs in September of 2013, an estimated 232 million people live outside their country of origin, as compared to 175 million in 2000. The UN also found that migrants from developing nations are settling in equal numbers in both developed and developing regions, a change from recent decades.

Although it wasn’t just the job market that inspired Aitken to relocate to Beijing, the opportunities the city offers professionally are a large part of what has kept her there for more than seven years.In many emerging economies, longtime residents have witnessed the growth and diversification of the expatriate community around them. For example, after the worldwide financial crisis of 2008, employment opportunities in the United States and many European nations declined sharply. Shannon Aitken, a professional writer and author of Moon Living Abroad in Beijing, first came to China from Australia on a charity cycling tour with Oxfam. Attracted to Beijing’s traditional culture and the opportunity to learn Mandarin, she says she chose to settle in the Chinese city because she “wanted to be able to work professionally but still experience something quite foreign to [her] Australian life.” Although it wasn’t just the job market that inspired Aitken to relocate to Beijing, the opportunities the city offers professionally are a large part of what has kept her there for more than seven years.

“I originally intended to come for one or two years,” she explains. “The thing with Beijing is that opportunities keep coming up. You work on a project here and think to yourself, I’ll go home after this is over, but then just when you’re getting into that mindset, someone puts another job on your plate.” Aitken notes that even though “the true golden days for foreign opportunity are gone, there really are still so many opportunities here that you might not get back home.”

The result is a highly diverse expatriate community that ranges from families who come on diplomatic posts to entrepreneurs, university students, and executives. Most foreigners stay in the city for around three years, but Aitken says, “I no longer find it surprising when I meet someone who’s been here for 10 to 15 years.”

Like China, India’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, and it has also attracted professionals and entrepreneurs looking for opportunity outside the United States and Europe. Margot Bigg, a freelance journalist and Moon Travel Guides author who lives in Delhi, has noticed a change in the types of foreigners seeking opportunities in India. After the 2008 financial crisis, Bigg says, “Suddenly, there were a lot more mid-career people eyeing India as a possible place to start over, many of whom brought their families with them.” Of these, some were new to the country, while “others had Indian parents or ancestry and knew a bit about the culture already.”

The new influx represented a notable shift from the type of expatriate that chose India in the past. The previous expat population was made up of generally “young, single people looking for an overseas adventure, most of whom were willing to put in long hours for low wages in return for the experience of living in such an awe-inspiring country.”

Since 2008, the climate has lost some of its sheen for foreigners: India’s GDP growth has slowed, and the government made any foreigner earning less than $25,000 ineligible for a legal work visa—“a fortune by local standards,” explains Bigg. Despite those stumbling blocks, there are still many opportunities for executives and other skilled foreigners continue seeking jobs in India’s information technology, manufacturing, and finance sectors, adding their numbers to the entrepreneurs, adventurers, and writers typically drawn to the country.

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