Record numbers of Chinese nationals are choosing to emigrate, prompting calls for measures back home to stem the outflow of wealth and talent overseas, recent reports said.
According to the Beijing-based Center for China and Globalization (CCG), 9.34 million mainland Chinese emigrated, mostly to Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, during 2013.
The majority of migrants are the country's rich and most highly educated elites, with greater political openness, less pollution, and good educational opportunities the main reasons cited for leaving, the CCG found in its annual report.
The flood of high net worth individuals seeking to settle overseas has flooded immigration authorities, with the U.S. freezing investment visa applications for 2014 after the quota for Chinese applicants was exceeded in August.
The boom has also fueled the growth of visa brokerages that deliver visas to rich Chinese clients, taking care of the sometimes onerous paperwork on their behalf.
"It takes about a year and half to get [an investor visa] for the U.S.," an employee at a company specializing in immigration to Europe and the U.S. told RFA.
"There is a quota of 10,000 in the U.S., so when that's filled, they don't give out any more," the employee said. "That quota has never been filled before, but in 2014 it was filled."
Last year, Australia handed out 90 percent of its investor visas to Chinese applicants.
Many plan to leave
China has gone from being the 7th largest exporter of immigrants to the 4th largest, an increase of more than 125 percent, according to Pew Research.
Meanwhile, a September survey by Barclays Bank found that 47 percent of rich Chinese plan to emigrate in the next five years, compared with 23 percent of Singaporeans and 16 percent of Hong Kongers.
"As they rush to emigrate, wealthy Chinese are draining away large amounts of the country’s wealth," the Asia Society's ChinaFile website reported this week, adding that Chinese buyers are fueling property booms in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Chinese buyers spent more than U.S.$221 billion on property in the U.S. alone, between April 2013 and March 2014, it said.
Atmosphere of fear
Zhong Dajun, founder of the Beijing Dajun Economic Observation Research Center, said the problem has become "extremely serious."
"It is indicative of all sorts of problems that have arisen since China's reform and opening up [in 1979]," Zhong said. "I don't think they foresaw this situation would emerge."
"There are a number of political issues in China that make these rich people very nervous indeed," he said. "They have caused an atmosphere of fear ... especially at a time of unbalanced social development."
He said many of China's rich fear the ultimate power of the ruling Chinese Communist Party to target them politically and to reappropriate their wealth.
"Now we're seeing those fears express themselves ... through emigration."
The huge surge in migration comes amid a nationwide anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi Jinping, who has vowed to go after both high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies," since he came to power in November 2012.
But critics say Xi's campaign is highly selective, and is widely seen as a form of political purge, with the president's allies protected from exposure.
Ealier this month, Beijing ordered a probe into deaths of its officials from "unnatural causes" following a rise in the number of reported suicides among them, which some attributed to strong-arm tactics used by party graft investigators.
Government departments and agencies have been ordered to compile data on deaths, including place, circumstances, and apparent causes of death, as the number of apparent suicides in officialdom rises.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.