ABC of the route to laowai identity

(China Daily) Updated: 2016-11-17

Lately, the laowai people in China have been asking themselves-and often aloud: "What category am I?"

The answer will likely be available from November when the government introduces a "points-based" grading system for foreigners working in Chinese companies and institutions.

A journal of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security recently said foreigners coming to work in China will be categorized into A, B and C levels by management, following the "principles of encouraging the top, controlling the middle and limiting the bottom".

Class A will include top talents; B general professionals; and C those on short-term jobs.

Laowai is a liberally used slang for the Chinese word waiguoren (foreigner).

Announcement of this in the local media met with a few raised eyebrows in the expat community. And while more details of the new system are awaited, the approach seems relevant not just for Chinese enterprises but also for foreigners who seek employment opportunities here or want to stay in the country for the long term.

From an expat viewpoint, it could further enhance racial and gender diversity in recruitments, for instance.

If merit is visibly incentivized as appears to be an objective of the exercise, many more people from different parts of the world, would be encouraged to work in China.

Similarly, the number of foreign women working in Chinese companies may rise in the future. Today, we see far fewer foreign women than foreign men working in Chinese companies, partly owing to the lack of knowledge, especially in non-Western countries, about the availability of career options in China.

The ministry journal, Zuzhirenshi, said emphasis is being placed on drawing "creative talents and outstanding young talents" to the Class A pool.

The B category will include foreigners who can fill "short-term gaps, especially in management and technical areas", the journal said, adding that in areas such as international trade, sports, culture and education consultancies, the Chinese employers are expected to set hiring limits after weighing in factors like company investments.

The next category, which companies are being asked to "strictly" limit, will include temporary, seasonal or unskilled foreign workers and those in the service industry. This is in line with the existing policy of local employment.

Media reports said high-tech identity cards would be issued to foreigners if trials are successful in some cities in the coming months.

On a lighter note, where does all of this leave the backpacker or the English teacher? Last heard, the first is nearing extinction in China and real members of the second are rarely sighted here these days.

A popular lifestyle magazine published in English from Beijing and meant for foreigners has called the "English teacher" a euphemism for the unemployed or sparsely employed expat.

Finally, here's an excerpt from my imaginary listing of the laowai people: Zuihao A++ (the cream), henhao A+ (somewhat creamy), hao A (has potential), OK laowai B+(self-explanatory) and mamahuhu B (could go either way). The respective meanings of zui, hao, hen and mamahuhu are most, good, very and mediocre.