Higher Education as an Immigration Path for Chinese Students and Scholars

By Pang, Bangchen; Appleton, Nicholas | The Qualitative Report, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Higher Education as an Immigration Path for Chinese Students and Scholars


Pang, Bangchen, Appleton, Nicholas, The Qualitative Report


The purposes of this study were to identify and describe the factors that influenced the choices made by mainland Chinese students and scholars to come to the United States, to identify and describe the factors that influenced their settlement in the United States, and to identify and describe the role that higher education played in this process. An explanatory multiple case study design was used as the basic strategy for the study. In-depth, open-ended interviews were conducted to describe, from the participant's perspective, the factors that influenced their successful immigration to the United States. The participants were a convenience sample of 10 Chinese immigrants from mainland China selected from several Chinese professional and social organizations in the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area. The participants were of different genders, professions, and ages. Key words: Higher Education, Chinese Immigration, Chinese Students and Scholars

Consistent with earlier findings, the participants in this study were highly qualified students and scholars from the top educational institutions in China. Factors influencing their decisions to immigrate to the United States included lack of professional opportunities, recurrent intrusion of the state into individuals' lives, the residual mistrust of intellectuals, and related political instability. For most of the participants the immigration process was long, difficult, and stressful. The participants faced many difficulties and hardships, including financial, emotional, social, and academic. Many changed their majors or took multiple degrees to enhance their prospects of finding a job that would enable them to stay in the United States.

Immigration has been a vital element in the development of the history of the United States. The fact that the United States continues to receive substantial inflows of immigrants remains a feature that distinguishes this nation from all other countries of the world. In the 1970's and early 1980's, the United States legally admitted twice as many immigrants in absolute numbers as did all of the remaining nations of the world combined (Briggs, 1984). During the last decade, the Chinese-American community increased by almost 800,000 nationwide due to a continuous stream of immigration. Many of these immigrants were professionals, students, and scholars.

Since the late 1970's, sending students and scholars abroad to earn degrees and conduct research has been an integral part of China's policy of upgrading its educational systems and obtaining the professional manpower necessary to meet the goals of modernization. More than ever before, large numbers of students and scholars were sent to Western Europe, Japan, and the United States for advanced studies and training (Guangming Daily, Sept. 22, 1989). In the early years, candidates tended to be middle-aged or older, And were drawn mainly from national-echelon higher education institutions, the best quality institutions in China. Later, more and younger graduates, as well as undergraduate students were sent.

The United States has consistently been the country of choice in China's practice of studying abroad, and three quarters of the total Chinese students overseas were believed to be in the United States (Reed, 1985). Many tens of thousands of students and scholars poured into the United States in a period of less than a decade. Many students sought to stay in the United States, and many of these were the top of the line scholars, selected for foreign study by China's most prestigious scientific, academic, and government institutions (Orleans, 1988). For those, who studied or were still studying in the United States and other foreign countries, various means were sought to extend their stays or to seek permanent residency in the host countries. Factors that influenced Chinese students to remain in the United States included low incomes, poor living standards, and lack of professional opportunities in China. …

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