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October 8, 2012

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Expats find shelter, opportunity in city

EDITOR'S note:

Shanghai Daily is running a series of reports exploring expatriates' life in the city. The series, "Expat and the City," focus on many aspects of expat life, ranging from the city's English language environment, visa applications and employment to medical services, children's education and social adaptation. We welcome our readers to participate in our interactive polls and surveys on our website: www.shanghaidaily. com or write to us through: metro@shanghaidaily. com.

Shanghai's robust economy and cosmopolitan lifestyle have become a magnet for foreign workers, whose numbers have tripled in the last five years. The city's expat workforce has become not only larger, but also more multicultural, more professional and perhaps even more outspoken.

From Switzerland to Malaysia, Spain to the US, they come to work in Shanghai. Foreign workers in the city now number about 70,000.

In a series of interviews with expats, Shanghai Daily found most of them happy to be here, despite quibbles about the rising cost of living. They are passionate and confident about their work and lifestyles. Some said they would like to see improved medical services and more progress on environmental issues. However temporary their stays may be, Shanghai has become a beacon in a world of economic rough seas.

Juan Salguero, a 28-year-old civil engineer and a native of Barcelona, had never left Europe before he landed a job with the French firm Bureau Veritas in Shanghai in February.

Leaving family and friends did cause Salguero qualms initially, but he had little choice. He graduated from university in 2010 and got a job in Barcelona, but after Spain's housing bubble burst, Salguero lost his job. "I didn't hesitate much because I wanted work," said Salguero of his Shanghai decision. "All of my former classmates don't have jobs now."

Though he's a junior-level employee at Bureau Veritas, he said he has been given good training and work experience. Salguero said he will stay in the city for three to five years.

Attracting professionals

As part of its campaign to modernize industry and expand into more advanced sectors, China's government has adopted policies to attract over 1,000 high-end, experienced professionals from abroad in target industries such as engineering, technology and medicine.

In 2008 to 2011, at least 225 senior foreign professionals have come to Shanghai, using government-backed programs that offer high pay and benefits, plus fast-track visa processing and easier access to permanent residency permits.

Dr Sandra Redderoth, a US cardiac rehabilitation expert, is an example of the kind of professional being sought. She works at Shanghai Delta Hospital and Clinics. "Cardiac rehabilitation is not yet fully developed in China," she said. "The demand for my specialty is growing rapidly and there are not enough experts in this area here, so foreign specialists are required. I decided to work here because the ability to offer such services and promote the specialty was very appealing."

Richard Ni, associate director with UK-based Robert Walters Talent Consulting (Shanghai), said there has been a 20 percent to 30 percent annual increase in headhunting requests for overseas talent. Competition is keen, he added. It helps to have top qualifications and niche skills, but even those further down the ladder find opportunities.

Asian workers adapt

Many foreign job-seekers from Asian countries have the advantage of speaking better English than Chinese locals. They also bring with them deeper understanding of Chinese culture and traditions than expats from Western countries.

Gigi Koh of Malaysia, a public relations specialist with a foreign firm, moved to the city from Australia in July. She speaks English, Mandarin, Cantonese and some Malay dialects. "Speaking Chinese is a big advantage during business meetings with Chinese clients," she said. "Some Chinese business leaders are reluctant to do business through translators. Speaking Chinese, even only a little, is a big icebreaker."

Foreigners, however, also must work hard. "It's the first time in all my life that I've had to work so hard," said Salguero, who often puts in 10 hours a day and works some weekends.

A great place to live

And living costs are soaring in Shanghai. Agnieszka Gniewek, a Swiss training manager with Schindler China, said she enjoys the international atmosphere of Shanghai but it comes at a cost. "It's an amazing place to work, with a variety of lifestyles, people, food and entertainment," Gniewek said. "I could not imagine living in any other city in China. ... But the Western lifestyle here is extremely expensive."

Few foreign workers are covered by the same pension, unemployment and other social security programs afforded to Chinese. China's Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security is now developing a mandatory system to include foreign workers in the nation's social security system. But expats contacted by Shanghai Daily showed little interest in it. Under Shanghai's current system, foreign workers and their employers can elect voluntarily to join the social security system. Few do because many employees are already covered under company plans. Then, too, foreign workers view their stays in China as temporary.

Hong Guibin, a labor law attorney with Shanghai Huiye Law Firm, said forcing all foreign workers in Shanghai to be included would cost workers and employers an extra 4.8 billion yuan (US$762 million) a year. "Foreigners themselves are allowed to cash out their contributions if they leave China, but their employers can't."


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