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Pollution plays on minds of potential foreign talent

Su Zhou
Updated: Jan 24,2017 9:34 AM     China Daily

55 percent of polled overseas workers worry about air quality

China’s problems with air pollution are undermining government efforts to make the country more attractive to overseas talent, according to recruitment professionals.

A survey by Spring Professional, a subsidiary of human resources company Adecco Group, found that the interest among top foreign talent in working in China has risen nearly 150 percent over the past five years.

Yet fears over the environment and climate have also increased. Fifty-five percent of 2,000 foreign employees that Spring Professional polled last year-who had each lived in the country for at least five years-said they had concerns about air quality, up from 23 percent in 2012.

Air pollution has hurt recruitment for the past two years, said Ma Erman, head of overseas recruitment for language training company EF English in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province.

“During interview processes, foreign applicants frequently check the air quality index,” she said. “Many will turn down an offer after thinking carefully about their health. For those who work here in Shijiazhuang, all of them will visit the hospital several times, especially during winter.

“Hebei doesn’t have many advantages to compete with coastal provinces, which have better economies and offer higher salaries, and air pollution is making recruitment even more difficult.”

According to data provided by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the average daily concentration of PM2.5-small particulate matter that is hazardous to health-in the country’s 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities was 47 micrograms per cubic meter last year, down by 6 percent from 2015 levels.

He Kebin, dean of Tsinghua University’s School of Environment, predicted it could take 10 to 15 years for most of the heavily polluted Chinese cities to meet the national air quality standard.

China has been watched closely by foreign job applicants in recent years due to the rapid development of its economy and its openness to overseas talent.

Hu Xin, a senior consultant at Spring Professional, said China has become more competitive in the talent war compared with five years ago.

“China has an advantage over European countries, whose economy, social order and political situations are deteriorating,” Hu said. “In 2015 and 2016, many private firms in China had a growing demand for high-end overseas technical talent and they are willing to provide attractive salaries and opportunities for promotion.”

However, many expats are having second thoughts as air pollution has become a long-term issue.

Will Suh, 27, stayed in Beijing for six months last year. “I miss China, but I had to come back to California. Maybe I will go back to China, but I think I will choose Shanghai or Guangzhou,” he added.