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Attracting Highly Skilled Migrants to Guangzhou, China: A Policy Commentary

Atraer a los inmigrantes altamente cualificados a Guangzhou, China: un comentario de política
Attirer des migrants hautement qualifiés à Guangzhou, en Chine : Un commentaire sur la politique de migration
Wei Li, Ling Ma, Yining Tan and Meixin Liu


The scope and the study of international migration have reached unprecedented levels. The UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) recognises that ‘migration is a multidimensional reality of major relevance for the sustainable development of countries of origin, transit and destination’, and calls for ‘integrat[ing] migration into development planning and sectoral policies at local, national, regional and global levels’. Such policies may include targeting individuals who are highly skilled/highly educated or lower skilled/less educated to fulfil different developmental goals. China, with its globalised economy, rapid economic growth, and wealth accumulation in recent decades embodies such a trend. With recruitment policies for top-tier Chinese returnees and foreign professionals, China has become an emerging destination for overseas talent. However, there is a lack of city-level/local-level analysis of the roles that local incentives and policies play when people choose a destination city. We aim to fill this gap by focusing on city-level talent recruitment and retention policies in Guangzhou, the capital of China’s Guangdong Province. In this policy commentary, we will 1) Compare and contrast the talent recruitment and retention policies instituted and implemented by the City of Guangzhou to attract Chinese returnees and foreign professionals in the last two decades; and 2) Assess the effectiveness and fairness of such policies, and their implications for other areas and countries in the global ‘race for talent’.

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Authors' notes

A United States National Science Foundation grant (BCS-1660526), a National Science Foundation of China grant (41971183), and a Guangdong Natural Science Foundation Grant (2020A1515010481) partially funded the research project that this chapter is based upon. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies.

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1. Introduction

1With a total of 272 million people in the world living and working outside their country of origin (UN, 2019), the scope and the study of international migration have reached unprecedented levels. When examining the relationship between migration and development, traditional scholarship almost exclusively focuses on the impacts of remittances (financial or social) sent to home countries by international migrants who have relocated from the global South to the global North. ‘Now, ideas on the positive effects of migration on development are at the centre of policy initiatives’ (Khondker, 2019, 42). The United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), an agreement endorsed by the majority of UN member countries, states that ‘migration is a multidimensional reality of major relevance for the sustainable development of countries of origin, transit and destination’. It advocates ‘integrat[ing] migration into development planning and sectoral policies at local, national, regional and global levels’ (UNGA, 2018, 5 and 28). Similarly, the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development target 10.7 calls for ‘orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people to be facilitated, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies(UNGA, 2015), squarely connecting migration policy to sustainable development goals. Such policies include those that target highly skilled/highly educated or lower skilled/less educated migrants, matching with various developmental goals. Attracting large numbers of highly skilled/highly educated migrants to a country or a city can directly contribute to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 (Quality Education), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure) in particular. Policies attracting these types of migrants have become increasingly popular at local, national, and global levels, and have been instituted by countries in both the global North and global South alike: whereas about two-thirds of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries had such policies to attract global talent in 2015, by 2011 two-thirds of the world’s top 25 migrant sending countries also had policies to attract returnees, including the highly skilled, back to their home countries (Czaika and Parsons, 2017; Hooper and Sumption, 2016). This marks the departure of global South countries from being purely countries from which migrants originate, to migrant destination countries as well, a phenomenon which requires new thinking and new policy initiatives to facilitate migrants’ contributions to sustainable economic and social development.

2Meanwhile, there have been changes in the scholarship of highly skilled migration. Historically, it involved studying the involuntary movement of professionals as a result of political conflicts, followed by the emergence of ‘brain drain’ situations, which largely occurred among African, Asian, and Latin American countries in the 1960s. Highly skilled and well trained professionals often left their home countries in the global South to settle permanently in the global North while migrant-sending countries incurred both the financial expense of the educational investment and the negative effects of this out-migration to their economic development. Such migration trends could often be attributed in part to the recruitment policies of global North countries. In recent decades, the brain drain has transformed into a ‘brain circulation’ among developing countries with the financial resources and/or policy incentives in place to attract both skilled returnees and foreign professionals to contribute to their development (Li et al., 2019).

3China, with its globalised economy, rapid economic growth and the wealth accumulation of recent decades embodies such a trend of transformation from migrant-sending to migrant-receiving country and to being both simultaneously. China is an emerging destination for both highly skilled returnees (Li and Yu, 2012) and foreign professionals (Yeoh and Willis, 2005). Highly skilled return migration is influenced by a host of migrant recruitment and integration policies in both sending and receiving countries. Foreign professionals are often attracted by China’s job opportunities, high financial returns, family reunification or cultural attractions (Zhuang, 2018).

4The existing literature demonstrates that highly skilled migration is affected by institutional factors such as China’s specific hukou (household registration) system, general market factors (Huang, Tian and Wang, 2013; Ma and Pan, 2014; Ma and Yue, 2011), individual human capital possession, career considerations (Cui, Geertman and Hooimeijer, 2016) and attachment to place (Du, 2015; Ma, Tan and Li, forthcoming). It is clear, however, that China’s recruitment policies, such as the Thousand Talent Programme (TTP), have played an important role in attracting top-tier overseas talent: Chinese returnees and foreign professionals (Zhou,, 2018). Introduced in 2008, the TTP is a top-down initiative to attract the world’s ‘best and brightest’ to China to tap into their knowledge and international networks. In its first decade, the programme attracted more than 8,000 top-level academics, entrepreneurs and other professionals from different parts of the world to China with lucrative incentives and research and development funding (Li et al., 2019).

5The question of whether subnational-level incentives and policies have played roles in people’s decisions to choose specific cities has been the subject of less inquiry, however, despite the national-level analysis that has shown the most popular destinations in China. For instance, the report on China’s regional international talent competitiveness shows that Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangdong Province are the top three most competitive areas in attracting foreign professionals (CCG, 2017). Shanghai, Beijing and Guangdong Province, China’s most developed cities and regions, have attached great importance to attracting top-tier talent from overseas. In 2009 Beijing, the capital, implemented the ‘Beijing Overseas Talent Gathering project’ which introduced two sets of policies to attract overseas talent, including the introduction of a residence or work residence permit (known as the ‘talent green card’), which not only gives top-tier foreign professionals preferential treatment, but also aims to facilitate their spouses’ permanent residency, their children’s schooling, and access to medical services (Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, 2009). Shanghai, a key economic hub in China, has set itself the goal of becoming a national science and technology innovation centre with global influence. In 2015, its municipal government established a series of preferential policies to attract, support and encourage overseas high-level talent to seek employment or set up businesses in the city, including issuing the foreign talent visa (also known as the ‘R visa’), and for the first time it permitted foreign students with degrees from Chinese academic institutions to work in Shanghai (Shanghai Municipal People’s Government, 2015). Guangdong Province, one of the first regions in China to open up to the outside world, with its pioneering policy to attract overseas talent instituted in 19991, implemented them prior to both Beijing and Shanghai. Thus, it can be seen that the paucity of city- or local-level analysis in the existing literature on migration and development needs to be addressed in order to provide insights into how lower-level policies can contribute to local development by tapping into migrant talent.

6We aim to fill this gap by focusing on city-level talent recruitment and retention policies in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, China. In this policy commentary piece, we will:

71. Compare and contrast the talent recruitment and retention policies instituted and implemented by the city of Guangzhou to attract overseas talent: Chinese returnees and foreign professionals/; and

82. Assess the effectiveness and fairness of such policies in sustainable development, and the implications for other areas and countries in the global ‘race for talent’.

2. Guangzhous Policies to Attract Skilled Migrants

9Guangzhou, located at the northern tip of the Pearl River Delta region in southern China, is an important trading centre and a busy port (Figure 7.1). The city has a population of around 10 million and is one of the most important centres of foreign commerce in southern China. With a highly developed economy, its 2019 GDP of USD 342,520 million ranked 4th among all Chinese cities (Netease News, 2020), just behind the GDP of Denmark (USD 350,104 million), ranked 40th in the world that year.2 Guangzhou is an educational and cultural hub in southern China, with top-tier universities such as Sun Yat-sen University, South China University of Technology, and Ji-nan University.

Figure 7.1 Situation of Guangzhou

Figure 7.1 Situation of Guangzhou

Source: Authors.

10The development of policies to attract overseas talent reflects the development process of the city. Since the launch of the reform and opening-up policy in 1978, Guangzhou has transformed from a planned economy to a market economy, becoming deeply involved in the global economy and in international competition. In the process, the city has encouraged and facilitated the free inflow of talent, investing tremendous financial resources in attracting overseas talents in order to ‘catch up’ with Western developed countries. As one of the earliest cities to undergo opening-up, it has aimed to attract talent from both home and abroad. In 1999, Guangzhou's municipal government issued the first talent recruitment policy, entitled ‘Guangzhou Municipality Regulations on Encouraging Overseas Returnees to Work in Guangzhou.’ Since then, the city has issued new policies almost every year in a bid to attract high-level talent from overseas.

11These policies have yielded positive outcomes. According to Guangzhou Foreign Experts Bureau, 67,200 returnees chose Guangzhou as their home in 2017 (CNR, 2017), accounting for over ten percent of all returnees to China (480,009) that year (HRSS, 2018). In the same year, Guangzhou hosted 51,430 foreign citizens, including 12,068 (23.5 per cent) working in foreign firms or Sino-foreign joint-ventures, 9,429 (18.3 per cent) foreign students, and 2,366 (4.6 per cent) teachers and other experts. More than 12,000 of these foreign citizens were issued residence permits valid for more than two years (Cai, Liu and Wen, 2019).

12We will compare the 21 Guangzhou government talent recruitment documents (policy documents and detailed regulations) from 1999 to 2019. Most were published by the General Office of Guangzhou Municipal People’s Government and Guangzhou Municipal Party Committee3. In this section, we will analyse the policies to attract all overseas talent, and those specifically geared toward Chinese returnees and foreign professionals respectively.

2.1 Policies Attracting All Types of Overseas Talent

13Since 1999, Guangzhou, a pilot zone of China’s economic reform, has launched a series of overseas talent recruitment policies with incentive measures to support the work and lives of those who migrate to the city. Over the years, Guangzhou has developed a relatively comprehensive talent recruitment system. Here we summarise two main characteristics of talent policies in Guangzhou: the definition of talent, and policies at multiple levels of governments.

14Firstly, Guangzhou has established a set of criteria for the overseas talent (both Chinese returnees and foreign professionals) it wishes to attract, with a primary focus on the fields of economics, technology and education, three key areas for sustainable development. The revised Kapok Plan (红棉计划) of 2019 defines ‘overseas talent’ as those who 1) are high-level talent selected by national talent attraction programs; 2) have earned at least a bachelor’s degree overseas; 3) have worked in enterprises or high-education institutions overseas; 4) are foreign students that have obtained a master’s degree in China; 5) are overseas Chinese. It defines ‘high-level talent’ as leaders in technology, entrepreneurship, management, academia or public policies, and holders of PhD from overseas universities who have worked in Guangzhou for at least 9 months in a single year.

15Secondly, Guangzhou has established a system that is primarily composed of municipal-level policies supplemented by those at district or development-zone levels. These policies aim to attract talent with the offer of funding, a supportive environment, and comprehensive services. For example, in 2016 Guangzhou designed and implemented the Talent Green Card System to attract both Chinese returnees and foreign professionals (Southcn, 2019). As of September 2018, Guangzhou had issued 4,470 talent green cards, including 3,663 primary applications and 807 dependent applications from both inside and outside China (GZDDDI, 2019). The city also introduced the ‘household management method’ for talent in 2019, ensuring that the measures were flexible, allowing financial incentives and support services to be provided to the recruited talent and their families. Meanwhile, in 2019, at district and development-zone level, Guangzhou’s Huangpu zone, Development zone, and High-tech zone all issued their own measures to recruit and retain high-level overseas talent, including favourable conditions in the career promotion process, business investment, housing, children’s education, social insurance, and providing more opportunities for the recruited talent to participate in major economic and social policy-making within the district.

2.2 Policies Attracting Chinese Returnees

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16Guangzhou’s talent recruitment policies started with attracting returnees, which was the sole objective at the initial stage (1999-2000). The Guangzhou government defined returnees as, 1) persons sent by the Chinese government or at their own expense to study abroad and obtain a master's degree or above; and 2) those who had obtained a bachelor’s degree or above in China and then studied abroad or worked as a visiting scholar for more than two years with specific scientific research achievements in certain fields. The incentives included: 1) Professional development: offering returnees positions as employees at state-owned institutions and incentives such as the continuous calculation of the length of employment before going abroad and after returning,4 salary adjustment, awarding professional and technical titles, and social insurance; 2) Favourable policies for their families: allowing returnees and their spouses, children, and parents to apply for local hukou, providing additional family subsidies and temporary housing in Guangzhou, permitting returnees’ children to enrol in nearby schools and adding bonus points to the results of their high school entrance examination; and 3) Financial policy: giving returnees with foreign citizenship priority approval for multiple exit and entry permits. Considered different from other Chinese citizens, returnees were permitted to purchase foreign currency and remit it abroad through designated banks, forming a ‘reverse remittance’ stream to the global North, a departure from the traditional migration phenomenon of remittances flowing only from the global North to the global South.

17The second stage (2000-2009), while ensuring the continuity of the policies established during the initial stage, was characterised by an increased emphasis on attracting high-level talent (such as those with a doctoral degree) and the provision of services and financial support for returnees, in particular for those planning to start a business in Guangzhou. The government had realised that overseas talent was playing a leading role in the technological and innovative industries (key to SDG 9). Such policies accelerated after the global financial crisis, and this was consistent with promoting technological innovation at the national level (Li et al. 2019). In 2008, for example, the Guangzhou government set up a special fund of RMB 200 million (worth USD 28.8 million at the time) for high-level talent, with the aim of supporting these returnees in setting up high-tech enterprises or engaging in scientific research in key development areas for the city. For each high-level talent attracted, a one-time settlement fee ranging from RMB 300,000 to RMB 1 million (Worth USD 43,200 to 144,000 at the time) was provided.

18During the third stage (2010 to the present), the government has expanded the scope of recruitment by providing more professional services to attract and retain overseas returnees, offering special Guangzhou Certification for high-level overseas (returnee) talent and providing preferential treatment for all returnees with at least a PhD degree. Such returnees are eligible for a RMB 100,000 subsidy for relocating to Guangzhou, with higher subsidies available to those defined as high-level overseas talent. In addition to the incentive policies for all high-level overseas talent, during this third stage, Guangzhou has also introduced preferential policies for young overseas returnees, consistent with the national-level Youth TTP. For example, in order to attract overseas (returnee and ethnic Chinese living overseas) doctoral graduates to Guangdong to engage in postdoctoral research and create a pool of young high-level talent for the province, the ‘Pearl River Talent Plan’ (overseas youth talent introduction plan and for postdoctoral funding) was implemented in 2016. This includes financial support for returnee young post-doctors in the form of salary supplements, settlement fees and a variety of research funds. Such policies have yielded positive outcomes by recruiting leaders in the fields of science and education. Professor Zhou of South China Normal University, for instance, returned from the Netherlands in 2010. By 2014, he had been awarded a total of 85 Chinese patents, 50 US patents, and one Japanese patent. He now serves as the Dean of South China Academy of Advanced Optoelectronics and has set up his own company in Shenzhen (SCNU 2014). Such academic and innovation leaders propel economic development toward the goal of sustainability.

19In sum, in comparison to inland Chinese cities, Guangzhou is reputed for its greater financial support, good research and business environments, and relatively open and flexible policies for the attraction and retention of overseas returnees.

2.3 Policies Attracting Foreign Professionals

20Compared with the well-established policies targeting Chinese returnees, Guangzhou’s policies to recruit foreign talent have been developed more recently and are often embedded within the broader scheme to attract overseas talent. In particular, Guangzhou has designed and implemented policies to attract foreign long-term professionals, entrepreneurs, and students to attain the city’s evolving objectives in the areas of economic development and technological innovation.

21As part of the innovative Talent Green Card System that Guangzhou introduced in 2016, incentives were established to specifically target foreign professionals. In particular, those categorised as ‘Type A talent’ in China’s new work permit system are eligible to apply for the talent green card, which entitles its holders to permanent residency. Green card-holders and green card applicants enjoy privileges in several areas: 1) a streamlined process to apply for the foreign talent visa (the ‘R visa’), an alternative to foreigner’s residence permit in China; 2) eligibility for their children to enrol in public schools; 3) permission to purchase residential property and automobiles; 4) permission to purchase foreign currency at designated banks; and 5) eligibility for the spouse, child(ren) under 18, parents, and spouse’s parents to apply for the ‘dependent talent green card’ and enjoy similar benefits (Guangdong Talent Network, 2019). As of 2018, the Talent Green Card System had attracted 319 foreign professionals, 8.71per cent of all primary applicants. The US, Canada, and Australia are the top three countries for foreign recipients of the talent green card (GZDDDI, 2019).

22The policies to attract foreign talent are continuously evolving to reflect the city’s goal of upgrading its economic structure in part by offering attractive conditions for foreign entrepreneurs. To keep pace with the city’s aspirations, in 2017 Guangzhou updated its Kapok Plan to encourage overseas talent to lead start-up projects related to information technology, artificial intelligence and biopharmaceuticals (IAB) and new energy and new materials (NEM) industries, the two new directions of the city’s economic restructuring that directly target SDG nine. Since 2018 Guangzhou has aimed to fund up to 30 entrepreneurial projects annually for five years. Each selected project receives up to RMB 2 million in start-up capital with a discounted interest rate for loans. The Guangzhou government also coordinates the actions of different municipal departments to foster a supportive institutional and social environment for the entrepreneurs in receipt of funding. Furthermore, it streamlines the enterprise registration process for foreign passport holders and enforces the intellectual property protection mechanisms (Government of Guangzhou City, 2017).

23Moreover, the 2011 version of the Kapok Plan expanded the target group between 2012-2017 to include, in addition to those with overseas educational qualifications and professional experience, foreign students who had obtained a master’s degree or above in China (CYD, 2011). This policy, aimed at retaining top-tier foreign students, was considered to be an important measure in the race for talent, similar to policies implemented by many global North countries. The Kapok Plan is now integrated into the Talent Green Card System to retain foreign students in Guangzhou after graduation.

24The implementation of such polices has brought positive impacts to the local society and contributed to making its development sustainable, including in the higher education and innovation sectors. For instance, the foreign professors at the International School of Advanced Materials at South China Normal University helped create an English language immersive learning environment, sharing the most advanced research activities in the field with students, thus contributing to the intellectual development of students and the globalising of higher education at the University (SCUT, 2020). Moreover, the 2019 Convention on Exchange of Overseas Talents was attended by almost 3,000 overseas ‘talents’ from 30 countries, attracting 1,761 collaboration projects in the fields of information systems, biomedical engineering, energy conservation, new materials, etc. (Southcn, 2019).

25In summary, Guangzhou’s policies to recruit foreign professionals derive from the city’s existing plans to attract Chinese returnees with additional elements that specifically apply to foreigners. The general strategy to attract foreign professionals has been to customise policies to serve different groups of foreign talent: long-term professionals, entrepreneurs, and students. The strategy has benefited both foreign talent and the city. It fits the city’s needs to diversify the talent pool and helps achieve its development goals. For policies to recruit long-term foreign professionals, Guangzhou has emphasised providing support services to incoming professionals and their families to help them settle in, along with a simplified visa process, housing opportunities and benefits to children’s education. The policies to attract foreign entrepreneurs offer start-up capital and a supportive environment to sustain the growth of their business, while the policies to attract foreign students to study/work in Guangzhou provide employment and settlement opportunities and encourage foreign graduates to start businesses in Guangzhou.

3. Policy Commentary

26From the above discussion, we can summarise and comment on the policies instituted and implemented by the City of Guangzhou in attracting ‘overseas talent’, including both Chinese returnees and foreign professionals, as the following:

27Guangzhou, a major economic hub, has joined the global race for talent and complemented China’s nationwide initiatives by instituting its own policies at the municipal level, such as the Pearl River Talent Plan and the Guangzhou Talent Green Card System. At the vanguard of Chinese cities opening up to the world, Guangzhou has taken its own initiative in the race for talent by issuing a large number of citywide or local-level policies5. We note that Guangzhou issued policies to attract overseas talent before either Beijing or Shanghai, although the scope of the policies’ aims and the implementation are similar in all three cities.

28These policies aim to promote educational and economic development, especially regarding SDGs 4 (Quality Education), 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure). The various stages of the policies are based on different development goals and target different migrant groups. At the end of the 1990s and in the early 2000s, the policy goal was only to attract returnees, mainly tapping into their homeland affinity and attachments. But as China’s economic take-off led to the availability of more financial resources and improved employment opportunities—particularly since the global financial crisis—China in general and Guangzhou in particular increased their financial incentives and offered other supplemental policies to attract both highly skilled returnees and foreign professionals, increasingly with the aim of facilitating long-term plans for working and living in the city. Guangzhou has recently added foreign PhD students studying in China to the list of target groups, competing with the traditional advantage of global North countries to recruit within this demographic. In terms of target development sectors, the policy initiatives have also evolved over time: the initial eligibility criteria were largely based on human capital levels, attracting returnees or foreign talent to teach in Guangzhou’s higher education institutions (Ma, Tan and Li, forthcoming). The target increasingly became more sector-specific and more development goal-oriented, focusing on IAB and NEM industries, all of which are key to both the nation’s and the city’s economic development goals, as well as to ensuring more sustainable development in new industries while remaining at the forefront of the global race for talent. Such capability-enabled, development-stage related, sector-specific recruitment policies may be adopted by other cities or countries for their own respective development goals at specific periods in time.

29In assessing the policies introduced to attract overseas talent, we also note the normative frameworks applied to the governance of labour migration. In particular, international organisations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) play an important role in supporting labour migration programmes between countries and in facilitating regional cooperation for maintaining effective and efficient labour migration flows in synergy with individual nations’ own development goals. Nevertheless, the success of international normative frameworks remains limited if their application is not accompanied by institutional changes at other levels (Kneebone, 2010). Similar to policy challenges for labour migration, recruiting overseas talent should always keep up with labour market dynamics and the changing development priorities at municipal, regional and national levels. In addition, labour and living standards for overseas talent should be established to protect migrant workers’ rights within the workplace and in the destination societies. Similarly to the Overseas Talent Gathering Project in Beijing, the Thousand Talents Plan in Shanghai and the Pearl River Talent Plan in Guangzhou, significant support should be given to overseas talents in terms of working conditions, living conditions and entrepreneurship.

30Despite Guangzhou’s overall success in attracting overseas talent, there are several issues that need to be addressed. For instance, at the individual level, there is a lack of a mechanism to solicit feedback from those being recruited on the fairness and effectiveness of the policies, and on how to balance one-time financial incentives to settle with long-term support for their work and lives. At the city level, there is a constant need to evaluate whether a particular recruitment policy has reached its goal in facilitating sustainable development, and when may be the time to withdraw certain policies. At the same time, with the increasing number of overseas talent coming to China in recent years, questions of how to develop more targeted public policies, recruitment and retention measures for different types of talent, and of how to better evaluate and utilise the different forms of capital that they bring from overseas in order to align with urban development goals, are also a long-term challenge for local government. How to balance the development of overseas talent with that of domestically trained talent is another issue that needs to be better addressed if equity, inclusion and belonging are to be achieved. It is important to make sure that talent recruited from overseas and talent trained domestically are both able to fill positions that best match their skills and capital, to avoid vicious competition between the two groups.

31Last but perhaps most importantly, is the question of how to achieve a balance between the race for talent and development goals in order to alleviate inequality at city, regional, national, and global levels. While attracting top-tier talent from overseas for economic development purposes helps economic growth and contributes to alleviating poverty and hunger overall (SDGs 1 and 2), the implementation of these policies may not contribute to gender equality or reduce inequality (SDGs 5 and 10). If not designed or implemented fairly and in a just manner, such policies may actually hinder the achievement of these goals and instead increase inequality at individual, local, national and global levels.

32Li et al. (2019) demonstrate the differential goals and outcomes of talent recruitment policies between China and India. China’s broader reach, greater incentives and more successful results are due in large part to its more advanced economy and better financial capability. We see a similar pattern in our analysis of Guangzhou’s policies and outcomes. As one of China’s most advanced economies, Guangzhou has ample financial resources to recruit and retain overseas talent. If the global race for talent becomes a zero-sum game in which those with the financial means are the winners and the rest are the losers, a more severe brain drain situation is likely to occur both internationally and domestically. We, therefore, following Khadria’s (2017) urge for South-South collaboration in migration and development, call for more developed countries/cities to collaborate with those that are less developed to consider implementing mutually beneficial policies with the potential to yield fairer and more balanced outcomes.

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1 see appendix:

2 Calculation based on (accessed on 9 April 2021).

3 Details in the appendix online at

4 In the previous Chinese system, everything, including promotions and salary increases, depended on how long a person had worked inside China. Therefore, counting their years overseas into the length of total employment period became a critical advantage for returnees.

5 These are detailed in the appendix :

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 7.1 Situation of Guangzhou
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Cite this article

Electronic reference

Wei Li, Ling Ma, Yining Tan and Meixin Liu, Attracting Highly Skilled Migrants to Guangzhou, China: A Policy CommentaryInternational Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 14 | 2022, Online since 25 April 2022, connection on 28 November 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Wei Li

Wei Li is a professor at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on international migration and transnational connections. She is the author, co-editor, or co-translator of seven scholarly books, three themed journal issues, and 150 other academic publications.

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Ling Ma

Ling Ma is an Associate Professor in Human Geography at the School of Geography and Remote Sensing, Guangzhou University. Her research focuses on the return migration of highly skilled workers to China, urban amenities, and urban development.

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Yining Tan

Yining Tan is a doctoral researcher in Geography at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on skilled migration between China and the US. 

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Meixin Liu

Meixin Liu is an Assistant Professor at Management College, Guangdong Polytechnic Normal University. Her research focuses on transnational elite migration in China.

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