Chinese parents invest in foreign properties for the chance of their child being admitted into university

By Deng Zijun Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/27 23:03:40

A shortcut?

As the gaokao, China's national college entrance examination and the biggest and most competitive test in the country, approaches, immigration companies are wasting no time advertising.

"Do you want your kids to win at the starting line?" one such ad with a heavy-handed parent-bait tagline asks. "Get a foreign residence today and go to top universities tomorrow!"

Some parents felt aggrieved about the perceived unfairness in the ultra-competitive admissions process. However, other parents acted immediately to see if their kids, too, could somehow obtain a foreign residence and thusly replicate the success of their peers.

"Golden Visas," mainly introduced to the investors by countries such as Greece, Cyprus, Spain and Portugal that suffered heavy financial crises in recent decades in order to boost inward investment, have become the latest trend among well-off Chinese families.

Such visas allow the investors to obtain residence permits and even citizenship in these nations by investing a certain amount in local properties.

Compared with higher-profile immigration destinations like the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, the low threshold of requirements for "Golden Visas" has helped make them quite popular among many parents in China.

This surging popularity could also have consequences, as rumors are being spread that some countries are considering scrapping their Golden Visas, causing many Chinese parents to scramble and pay steep fees to the immigration companies before it's too late.

It's all Greek to me

Zhou Haiyan, a 41-year-old mother from Beijing, moved to Greece one year ago just so that she could provide her 8-year-old daughter with more and better education opportunities.  

"The price of private schools there, such as ACS [American Community Schools of Athens] costs only half of what private international schools in China charge," Zhou told the Global Times.

"So why not pay less for a better education and better environment? And in Greece you can also opt in to the public school system, totally free of charge."

Zhou added that her first choice was of course the US, but the steep cost of living and exorbitant tuition, as well as the country's notoriously lax gun ownership laws and other uncertainties about their safety, made them think twice.

When asked if they had successfully blended in with their Greek community, Zhou said her daughter had no problems acclimating but for her husband and herself, the change was not as easy, primarily because of the language.

Another serious issue for the Zhous is that, because their residence there was obtained solely through a property investment, their so-called Golden Visa does not allow them to work in the country.

"You know we Chinese like to work. So we get bored without jobs and it has also caused us some financial pressure," Zhou, an artist who dabbles in freelance painting to earn pocket money, told the Global Times.

Alternative paths

According to public data on, an official institution which keeps records of various investment activities in Greece, as of November 30, 2018, a total of 22,730 foreigners have successfully applied for their Golden Visas via the property investment program.

The scheme has brought more than 2.2 billion euros ($2.5 billion) to the Hellenic government. Qiao Yugui, a 45-year-old mother from Anyang, Central China's Henan Province, is another such successful Chinese applicant.

She and her family expatriated to Greece two years ago. Instead of investing all their money in a single property, however, Qiao smartly purchased two smaller apartments - one to live in and one to rent out in order to recoup their investment. She said that thus far, her 11-year-old seems very happy about living and going to school in Greece.

In 2018, a total of 9,756 permanent residences were granted, with the majority - 55 percent - going to Chinese investors such as Qiao and Zhou. That figure is five times the number of follow-up buyers from Turkey and Russia.

Zhao Yi, who has been following property investments in V2 Development, a Greece-based company, for years, said that almost half of all Chinese investors still live in China due to their careers. Their foreign residence, then, is simply to keep open an alternative path for their children should they ever find themselves in a predicament.

While we're here...

The same goes for Greece's neighboring country, the Republic of Cyprus, a large island nation in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Zhang Xin, the China office manager of Leptos Estates, landed the job the moment Cyprus initiated its own property investment scheme in 2012. She explained that most Chinese are not concerned about a return on their investments so much as they are concerned about enrolling their children into an international school. 

Qiao confirmed this sentiment. "I think it's much easier to get into a top university in China if you can claim permanent residence in another country. But now that we are here, I actually prefer our daughter attend an actual foreign university."

Lisa Li, who immigrated to Canada two years ago, has only positive words to say about that nation's education, environment and inclusiveness.

But she has nonetheless found it rather difficult to blend in. "Canada is very open and inclusive compared to many other countries. But it's still not easy to make friends with [Canadians], and the language barrier is a deep chasm," Li told the Global Times.

"There are other problems we have to face, such as racism, guns, the use of cannabis [legal for recreational purposes in Canada], and excessive sex education in their schools," Li lamented, adding that as her children are only in kindergarten, she has not given much thought yet as to where they should attend university.

Gaokao immigrants

Officially, whether or not a foreign residence makes it easier for Chinese students to be accepted into a top-tier Chinese university remains unclear.

Wang, head of a Beijing-based educational company that consults with foreign students who wish to take part in China's gaokao, told the Global Times that there is a "big misunderstanding" about Golden Visas and the gimmicky taglines being used to bait Chinese investors.

"When it comes to the gaokao, there is a huge difference between having a Chinese nationality with a foreign residence and being a Chinese from a foreign country," Wang said.

According to Wang, the official policy about Chinese nationals obtaining foreign residences was tightened after news about "gaokao immigrants" went viral. "For Chinese with foreign nationalities, they are treated the same as real foreigners, so it is much easier for them to get admitted by a top university in China."

"But the amount of time you have to spend overseas should not be ignored," Wang warned. "It is required that you hold a valid foreign passport for more than four years and can prove that you lived abroad for more than two years in the past four years."

"If the prescribed qualifications are met, all you need to do is take a test and fill out an application," said Wang.

No such thing as a shortcut

But the requirements are vastly different for those Chinese claiming a foreign residence. 

Wang told the Global Times that it is almost impossible for Chinese with foreign residence to get into any top Chinese universities with negligible effort. 

"The difficulty is almost the same as the gaokao is for mainland students. The only difference may be in the subject matter. Politics and biology are not included in the joint admission exam, and there is a different emphasis in the other subjects," Wang said.

"It is required," Wang explained, "that those students and at least one of their parents must live in the country of their foreign residence for a continuous two-year period and a cumulative period of no less than 18 months."

For those Chinese who are pursuing shortcuts, Wang suggested they ask themselves two profound questions: whether they are willing to trade their Chinese nationalities just for the chance of their kid getting into a top university in China, and if they are prepared for potential changes in the policy.

Photo: VCG



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