October 21, 2019

GUEST ROOM | Stay in the U.S. or Go Back to China?

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If you ask a Chinese student randomly walking on Cornell campus their plan after graduation, there’s a growing possibility that they could be heading back to China.

According to a survey conducted by S.C. Johnson MBA students in the class of 2021 during a Cornell career consulting session, Chinese students are increasingly concerned about the prospect of staying in the U.S., while attracted more by the Chinese job market.

Yes, the tendency is not new. However, in recent years, growing rejections of student visas — let alone the almost-impossible-to-get H-1B visa — have fermented pessimism among students who are striving to stay. In the meantime, growing opportunities in China’s job market, especially in finance, manufacturing, investment and AI, have drawn attention from across the global economic landscape, offering more spice for new entrants.

What are the reasons behind this trend? What are they looking for back in China? Should the trend be assigned more importance? How could a better information channel between the U.S. and China be built?

According to the survey, 64 percent of students think there are more opportunities in Chinese domestic markets, while 38 percent say staying in the U.S. is very challenging. This urge was felt months prior to the Cornell MBA slot of a joint MBA program, whose students were approached by a group of Chinese students at Cornell inquiring about job opportunities back in China.

Li Mengying, a student who was asked for career advice, initiated the career consulting session at Cornell, trying to help more students access the Chinese job market. More than 10 students from the MBA class offered one-on-one advice in the form of 15-minute coffee chats. Students who provided the consulting range from finance and investment to engineering and media, which are all among the most promising and rapidly growing industries in the world. “As a global MBA, we specially dedicate to bridge the gap on both sides,” Li said.

The dual-degree MBA program is jointly held by S.C. Johnson Business School and School of Finance of Tsinghua Univerisity, the top financial academy in China. It aims at strengthening the academic sphere and business education bond between China and the U.S. It’s so far the only MBA degree within the Ivy League granted by the Ministry of Education in China.

That’s why the career consulting session was extremely well-received. More than 100 students signed up and stayed until the last guest left. It lasted for 3 hours with more students waiting and asking for similar sessions for more guidance.

In the 2017-18 school year, the number of Chinese students exceeded 360,000, an increase of 3.6 percent compared with the previous school year, accounting for 33.2 percent of all international students. The arrival of Chinese students has promoted the development of education and industry in the United States.

In the past year, the cooling of Sino-U.S. relations is gradually affecting the way these students are studying in the United States — which is known for its openness and freedom, but is constantly tightening visas for Chinese students and is involved in the vortex of the two countries.

Of the 100 students surveyed, more than 60 percent showed direct interest and clear goal of going back to China even before their study tour starts. However, more of them are concerned: “Seems we are not very well prepared about the domestic situation back to China, and we are kind of worried,” says Yang Lu.

According to a 2017 LinkedIn report, the areas with the highest preference for international students to return to China are Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou — especially the Greater Bay Area, a new special economic zone, which is attracting overseas talents with lucrative bonuses.

“It’s because the job market in China is very compromising and I don’t want to lose the opportunity back to China,” says Li Chen, a finance major who has been looking for jobs back in China since her first year of college.

Li Mengying said because of the increasing urgency, her team has already reached out to the  Cornell career center to raise the awareness of the trend. They are trying to build up a more comprehensive information-sharing platform to bridge the gap on both sides. “It’s meaningful to building up social impact in the changing context,” said Li.

Stella Song Yuhang is a graduate student in the S.C. Johnson College of Business. Guest Room runs periodically this semester. Comments may be sent to [email protected].