Chinese grads from foreign unis turn down Wall Street for Beijing
Beijing Financial Street at night. Source: Shutterstock

More “sea turtles” – a term used for Chinese citizens who return to China after studying abroad – are heading home than ever before.

A strong economy, a “bamboo ceiling” for Chinese graduates in companies abroad and a sense of home are said to be the three factors that will continue to spur more to return, according to Forbes

“If I’d stayed on Wall Street, I thought I might end up being a managing director at some bank,” 29-year old Kevin Diao told Forbes.

Diao, a graduate of New York University with a dual degree in finance and economics, was working at a lucrative investment banking job on Wall Street, but relocated to Beijing in 2015.

“But China is different. The market is moving so fast, and there are so many opportunities.”

In 2016, there are more than half a million Chinese students abroad, according to government figures.

The number of Chinese overseas graduates returning home saw a 56.95 percent growth in 2016 compared to 2011, when more than half of graduates had chose to remain abroad instead.

China’s economy and its booming tech sector are among the factors attracting “sea turtles” like Diao home. Tencent and Alibaba are large tech companies worth trillions combined and are still expanding exponentially.

Venture capital continues to flood China too – a recent Prequin report showed more than US$65 billion of venture capital investments were made in Greater China last year, a 35 percent year on year and an all-time high.

And while Silicon Valley does hire Chinese graduates, they can rarely get promoted into upper management, what is known as hitting the “bamboo ceiling”.

Among the five large tech companies (Google HP, Intel, LinkedIn and Yahoo), Asians and Asian Americans make up 27 percent of professionals, but only half that among executives, according to a 2015 study by non-profit Ascend.

Luring “sea turtles” back isn’t the only thing happening in China. The Asian superpower is also exerting considerable effort in attracting more foreigners to its universities.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of foreigners working in China tripled to 220,000, according to the Ministry of Public Security, which oversees immigration affairs, China Daily reported.

Last year, its visa programme was reformed to make it easier for domestic companies to hire foreign graduates on work visas.

It dropped the  work experience requirement for foreign postgraduates, which had previously made it almost impossible for foreigners who have only recently graduated to get work visas. Now, foreign students with a postgraduate degree or higher from Chinese or “well-known” foreign universities can be offered employment within a year after graduation.