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Increasingly, US multinationals doing business in China are tapping into the talents of Chinese returnees — émigrés who left the country to pursue educational or employment opportunities in North America or Europe who now want to return home.

“Qualified managers are in short supply in China today,” explains Raji Antoun, a principal and international human resources expert at William M. Mercer, Inc. “As a result, returnees have begun to play a wider role in the Chinese operations of multinational corporations. Many have considerable professional talents, language skills and multicultural experience, all of which makes them highly desirable as managerial and professional employees.”

Antoun predicts that opportunities for emigrant Chinese managers and professionals should grow substantially in the years immediately ahead as multinational concerns expand their operations in China. He cautions, however, that some companies may encounter problems integrating returnees into their workforces. “Skilled returnees command comparatively high compensation levels, a fact likely to raise pay equity issues.”

To get a better perspective on policies and practices involving Chinese returnees, Mercer recently surveyed 12 large US and Canadian multinationals with operations in China — typically, Beijing, Shanghai and Guagnzhou. Among its findings, the survey showed that:

  • eleven of the 12 companies currently employ, or plan soon to employ, Chinese returnees; the remaining company intends to do so within the next year or so;
  • ten of the surveyed companies provide returnees with short-term incentive bonuses; three, however, offer longer-term, stock-related incentives, but only to returnees in management positions;
  • currently, the surveyed companies employ a total of 36 Chinese returnees among them, of whom more than half have obtained US or Canadian citizenship;
  • the top three perquisites provided to returnees are a company car or car allowance, paid vacation, and home leave. Other perks include provision for emergency evacuation, tax return preparation and dependent education allowance;
  • relocation assistance of some type — typically payment for shipment of household goods — is provided by the companies that currently employ, or expect soon to employ, Chinese returnees;
  • the cash compensation (salary plus annual bonus) of returnees who hold general manager positions ranges between $90,000 and $163,000; the average is $121,338 of which $99,400 is base salary and $21,938 is annual bonus.

“Possession of a US passport and ‘green card’ can help determine the returnee’s compensation level,” says Antoun. He explains that a job candidate who has the ability to legally reside and work outside China is likely to expect — and bargain for — pay comparable to Western standards. Such compensation, notes Antoun, is typically many multiples of pay for a local.

“Others lacking a US passport and other documentation are likely to be in a weak bargaining position,” he says. “They may need to settle for pay that is comparatively low by Western — although high by local — standards.” Nevertheless, Antoun says that “beyond an immediate compensation gain, the idea of returning to China can have intrinsic appeal to many.”

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