A nec­es­sary, ur­gent change

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By LI YANG in Bei­jing

liyang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The loos­en­ing of visa and em­ploy­ment reg­u­la­tions is not merely a move by Shang­hai to be­come a global cen­ter of in­no­va­tion in the science and tech­nol­ogy in­dus­tries. Rather, the set of 20 mea­sures that aim to at­tract and re­tain top for­eign tal­ent is a nec­es­sary step in the right di­rec­tion to ad­dress some of Shang­hai’s most press­ing is­sues — a fast ag­ing pop­u­la­tion and brain drain.

Shang­hai has the old­est pop­u­la­tion in China. More than 25 per­cent of its res­i­dents are aged over 60, markedly higher than the na­tional av­er­age of 17 per­cent. The pro­por­tion of el­derly res­i­dents is ex­pected to jump to about 30 per­cent by 2020, a wor­ry­ing statis­tic that would lead to prob­lems in the work­force.

It also does not help that Shang­hai has one of the low­est fer­til­ity rates in the world, with the av­er­age per cou­ple be­ing less than one child. Even if the fam­ily plan­ning au­thor­ity had re­formed the cur­rent poli­cies a year ago and al­lowed cou­ples to have their sec­ond child, sta­tis­tics show that less than 20 per­cent of the qual­i­fied cou­ples ac­tu­ally want to be­come sec­ond-time par­ents.

To ex­ac­er­bate mat­ters, Shang­hai is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a brain drain that needs to be quickly man­aged. Although there are no of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics, it is a well-known fact that some elite Shang­hai fam­i­lies have em­i­grated to de­vel­oped coun­tries, leav­ing be­hind only the se­nior res­i­dents.

Thanks to the con­stant in­flux of mi­grant work­ers, the city’s pop­u­la­tion has in­creased dur­ing the ur­ban­iza­tion process. How­ever, most of the new­com­ers to Shang­hai are still con­cen­trated in the lower-end ser­vice sec­tors and do not ful­fill the city’s needs for se­nior man­age­ment and pro­fes­sional tal­ents who are equipped with global ex­pe­ri­ence and views in the fi­nance, trade, in­sur­ance, lo­gis­tics, trans­porta­tion and high-tech­nol­ogy sec­tors.

While there are al­ready many for­eign pro­fes­sion­als in Shang­hai, most of whom en­ter the city via em­ploy­ment by in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies, what the mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­ity needs is a more sta­ble and larger tal­ent pool that not only serves the cor­po­rate in­ter­est, but more im­por­tantly, the city’s trans­for­ma­tion needs.

The gov­ern­ment will also be hop­ing that these tal­ents will iden­tify them­selves as per­ma­nent res­i­dents and see Shang­hai as their new home, in­stead of be­ing the em­ployee of a com­pany who is merely pass­ing through.

The move­ment of tal­ent in de­vel­oped coun­tries has al­ways been af­fected more by mar­ket-based fac­tors than gov­ern­ment ac­tion. The main draws to a coun­try usu­ally in­clude at­trac­tive wel­fare ben­e­fits, se­cu­rity to in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, stan­dard of liv­ing, as well as a good nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. In Shang­hai’s case, the air and wa­ter pol­lu­tion in the Yangtze River Delta could be stum­bling blocks.

Apart from re­ly­ing on China’s rise as an eco­nomic pow­er­house and the plethora of op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able, the au­thor­ity in Shang­hai must now trans­form these 20 mea­sures into a prac­ti­cal and im­ple­mentable sys­tem that is based more on the charms of the city than the money cours­ing through it.

The sig­nif­i­cant changes that have been in­tro­duced to visa and em­ploy­ment reg­u­la­tions sug­gest that the gov­ern­ment ac­knowl­edges the dire con­se­quences of los­ing lo­cal and for­eign tal­ent to other cities, and the fact that it is now eas­ier for a for­eigner to gain a per­ma­nent residential per­mit in­di­cates Shang­hai’s re­solve to be the des­ti­na­tion of choice for the world’s best of minds.

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