Guangzhou, labelled by one local publication as China’s “Chocolate City” (pdf), appears to be much less attractive to African immigrants these days. The fewest number of Africans arrived in Guangzhou last year than at any time in the past 10 years, just as government policies make it harder for Africans to stay.
There’s been a 30 to 40 percent annual increase in the number of African immigrants to the city from 2003 to 2012 or so, a pattern that slowed drastically last year. While no official number was released, it is said to be a sizable difference from the peak between 2006 and 2010.
The drop is directly attributed to a cooling of the economic “gold rush” and a slowing economy. Between 2002 and 2007, trade between China and Africa expanded seven-fold, a time in which China became Africa’s second largest trading partner.
However, African migrants say discriminatory government policies and prejudicial attitudes from locals have made it difficult for Africans to stay and live in Guangzhou. Last year, the Chinese central government passed the Exit-Entry Administration Law that now requires expats to return to their home nations to renew their visas instead of doing so at intermediary destinations like Hong Kong. While US and Australian citizens may be enjoying a recent lifting of visa restrictions, citizens of African countries are stuck with an unsympathetic bureaucracy.
Kuala, a Congonese national that has lived in China for 15 years, explains his frustration:
In applying for the visa, I was told that because my wife is from Yunnan, we would need to go back to where her hukou is registered; in registering in Yunnan, I was told to go back to where my residence is located…
Ali (a pseudonym), a foreign exchange student from the Congo, describes the high cost of living in China:
I am a foreign exchange student, and each year it costs RMB 9,000 to get my visa, a total cost of RMB 36,000 over four years that I depend upon my parents to pay for. Foreigners in China are forbidden to work (without the proper accreditation). I can’t say that I’ve ever worked in China.
But even as the African community has built itself into a vibrant community in Guangzhou, trust and acceptance between Africans and locals has not kept pace.
Li Zhigang, a professor at Zhongshan University, published a 2008 report saying 83 percent of local residents prefer not to live in the same neighborhood as “black people”. At the same time, 70 percent of Africans are not willing to live in the same neighborhoods as Chinese.
Members of the African community say they are discriminated against, noting many taxi drivers refuse to pick them up. Whatever the reason for falling immigration, it looks like fewer Africans and Chinese will have to live near each other in the future.
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Photo: Yangcheng Evening Report