Shanghai: Keeping Up With The Expat Times

Service providers discuss shifting markets and visas in Shanghai.

by Abbie Pumarejo | Mon, May 22, 2017

As expats in Shanghai, we are well aware that change constantly takes place, and sometimes at lightning speed. Fortunately there is help available to bridge the gap and keep us in the know. One such organization is Community Center Shanghai (CCS), a non-profit dedicated to providing members of the community opportunities to optimize your time in the city. 

Defining the forum

CCS recently held their third annual Forum for Expat Service Providers (FESP) – an event in which expat service providers come together for a day of speeches, workshops and panel discussions and the brainchild of Nikki Lindgren, who was in charge of CCS’ Community Relations in 2015. She hoped to bring three major service sectors together – medical, relocation and education – to support international [people] in Shanghai. “I wanted to create a place that moved our community from me to we.”

This year, talks focused on two relevant topics: the shifting markets of Shanghai’s workforce and the new work visa process. Additionally, the event explores the following questions:

1. As demographics change, how can we better align businesses to serve professionals and empty nesters?

2. How is localization of employment packages affecting families?

3. How can families better understand and navigate the expensive international school maze, so that kids can be better placed in schools from the beginning?

4. How well are children with special needs being supported?

Those in the know

With a strong emphasis on getting the appropriate facilitators and speakers year to year, it seems the original goal is being accomplished. “This year FESP went deeper,” says Executive Director, Zhen Zeng-Liao, “from talking about trends, to discussions about learning strategies that companies and schools have initiated in responding to the changing demographics of the international market.”

“The changing nature of the expat market, [showing] decreasing numbers, with fewer families, and the further segmenting of the expat market, is resulting in local expat hires receiving fewer benefits [compared to the past].”

Bruce Robinson, Managing Director of The Resilience Institute in Greater China, who has felt a shift in the past few years. As an executive coach and mentor, and having lived in Shanghai since 2005, he’s witnessed fluctuations within the expat community and his own business.

“From a business standpoint, it was an opportunity to meet with potential customers, gain more exposure and to better understand how the market is changing.” 

Hot topic

One of the biggest discussion points during the second portion of the event revolved around the new legislation on foreigners’ work permits and the new work authorization process; with professionals from the Visa Service Center of Shanghai Foreign Service (Group) Co., and Ernst & Young (China) Advisory Limited providing detailed and up to date information. 

New visas will be based on a three-tier system, with A, B and C level visas being issued on a points-based rating system. Additionally, the new process will be more digitalized, with employees having access to scan and upload a variety of documents online.

Part of this process will be to standardize the current system by limiting unskilled workers who take jobs from the Chinese labor force. Within the realm of this new process, the expectation is to bring in the most qualified, suitable foreign talents, based on the markets and not the government’s mandates. As expected, this discussion caused quite a buzz and generated a great deal of questions. 

Kellie Henry, Sales Manager with Insiders Experience – who has lived in Shanghai for eight years – noted that in her panel discussion questions were mostly about the new work visa changes. 

“ultimately this discussion ended up largely focusing on legal issues relating to work permits – which I’m not quite sure the panel had envisioned in the planning stages – but it was certainly a very interesting conversation. I’ve since spoken with my GM regarding how we may need to look more closely at some of the working arrangements we have on our team.” 

Making connections

As a first time FESP attendee, Henry said, “It was interesting as an overview of what various service businesses are experiencing at this point in time in Shanghai, and seeing what the trends are.” She also felt it was a good opportunity for general networking.

Similarly, Evelyn Chaveriat, Director of Admissions at Concordia International School, Shanghai said,

“It is always great to connect with other professionals – and I enjoyed hearing about the new terms used for different groups of people as well as their needs as they move to Shanghai.”

When asked how an event like FESP helps professionals in the education sector, she went on to explain,

“It has always given us a bit of an inside view into other businesses that also see trends in the marketplace as well as the patterns of incoming and leaving families.”

Based on the feedback from these participants and attendees, it is clear that FESP is providing a relevant and necessary platform.

As Lindgren, now General Manager of the NGO Xiersen Children Service Center asserts,

“I hope it continues to be a place for interesting and engaging conversation. We may not ever have all the answers at the end of the day, but my hope is that on an annual basis, this event provids a benchmark of understanding some of these trends.”

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