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Hefei: A charming city magnetic to foreign expats

Updated: 2019-09-11

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(chinadaily.com.cn)

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Hefei, capital of East China's Anhui province, is gathering pace on its quest to become an innovation highland with growing appeal to foreign talents.

The city ranked third in the list of Amazing China – the Most Attractive Chinese Cities for Foreigners in both 2017 and 2018, following only Shanghai and Beijing. The annual survey by International Talent magazine is based on online and signature polls of foreigners, including Nobel Prize and Chinese Government Friendship Award winners.

Statistics from immigration authorities show that more than 6,000 foreign talents work in the city, and the number is constantly on the rise.

Over 1,600 work permits have been issued to foreigners who work in local enterprises and public institutions long term since the new work permit system for foreigners was launched on April 1, 2017. About 30 percent of the applicants are high-caliber foreign talents. To date, 10 foreigners in Hefei have garnered the Chinese Government Friendship Awards, accounting for one third of Anhui's total.

The reason for the international workers' coming and staying in the city varies. "It is quite easy to survive in Hefei, where I feel welcomed," said Olaf Rack from Germany, who works as a visiting lecturer in industrial design at Hefei University.

"No one takes care of you elsewhere as much as people do here. Whenever I need a new visa, an apartment and a China Mobile SIM card, or go to the hospital, it's a comfortable situation:  I know what I need, what my problem may be and who I can turn to for help," added Olaf.

Noticeably, the government offers foreigners all-round support in household registration, housing, medical treatment and children's enrollment.

Sarmad Ali, for instance, pursued his PhD degree at the University of Science and Technology of China with a scholarship under the CAS-TWAS President's Fellowship Program. After graduation, he obtained residence and work permits directly thanks to the Seven Exit-entry Measures of Anhui Province. Now, he is working at Hefei Guoxuan Hi-Tech in new energy vehicle battery research and development.

Governmental support is not the only positive factor. Kariya Hiroyuki, president of the Caihong E-glass Research Institute, spoke highly of the cooperation between Chinese enterprises, universities and scientific research institutions. It is quite different from the situation for Japan enterprises, which often work on their own.

The most fascinating things about Hefei in the eyes of many foreigners are its rapid changes, which always seem to reveal more of the city's potential. Examples are the progress from Metro Line 1 to Metro Line 3, opening of more and more international flights to different cities, mushrooming high-rises, inflow of investment and soaring foreign trade.

By the end of 2018, 46 overseas World Top 500 companies had set up business in Hefei. A total of 140 foreign-funded enterprises settled in the city last year, with actually-used foreign direct investment reaching $3.23 billion yuan. The export-import value was $30.813 billion yuan, and the export value of hi-tech products account for 44.2 percent of the total.

Most importantly, the fast-growing modern city is developing without comprising its low cost and ease of living compared with first-tier cities. Milica Stevanovic, an Anhui Xinhua University English teacher from Serbia, hailed Hefei as full of nature, with parks everywhere and the famed Yellow and Jiuhua mountains nearby.

The National Garden City is home to 187 parks and features a per capita green area of 13 square meters. It has garnered six China Human Settlements and Environment Exemplary Awards. Be it its living environment or development opportunities, Hefei is increasingly regarded as a land of promise by various talents from around the world.

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Olaf Rack (L) in an industrial design training class. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]