A Beijing-based think tank urged the central government yesterday to upgrade its immigration office to a ministerial-level agency to tackle a "migration deficit" caused by a growing trend of people taking their skills and wealth abroad.
The number of mainland emigrants reached 9.34 million last year, compared with 848,900 immigrants, leaving a migration deficit – or an excess of emigrants over immigrants – of 8.5 million.
The figures were contained in the Annual Report on Chinese International Migration 2014, published by the Centre for China and Globalisation (CCG).
The deficit has increased 129 per cent since 1990, when it was 3.71 million. It makes China the fourth-largest source country for international emigrants after India, Mexico and Russia. The US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are the top four destinations for mainlanders.
The number of emigrants resulted in a brain drain and money outflow, said the report.
"Most of the Chinese emigrants are middle-class people aged 35-55," it said. "Their leaving weakens middle-class support for China’s social transformation and causes a huge loss to society’s reforms and progress."
Their departure also took away a huge amount of wealth.
In 2012, 6,124 Chinese moved to the US through the investment immigration scheme, causing an asset outflow of between US$3 billion and US$6 billion – and that is without taking into account expenditure on things including home purchases.
Meanwhile, the outflow of wealth and talent was not offset by immigration, with relatively high barriers for entry hindering the numbers arriving.
Wang Huiyao, director of the CCG and the principal editor of the report, said: "Our immigration system is still lagging behind when compared to Western countries. We have too many authorities which get involved in the issues of immigration and some of the policies are even conflicting with each other."
Wang suggested the central government should upgrade the immigration office to a state-level bureau. The main body managing foreigners, the Exit-Entry Administration Bureau, is a department under the Ministry of Public Security.