Published On: Wed, Jul 24th, 2019

The Worsening Plight of Africans in China

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The mass protest by Africans in China’s coastal city of Guangzhou on July 15, 2009 was not only unprecedented, but also very significant. For Africans to take to the streets in blatant violation of China’s security laws was both a manifestation of full-blown frustration, and also an attempt to call world attention to their worsening plight.

This single event exposed the depth of the grievances of African migrants in China which dates back to the months leading to the Beijing Olympic Games. After the Games, the coming of the global financial crisis added to this agony.

From Olympic Games to Global Downturn: Worsening Times for Africans in China

Early signals that Africans were not welcome in China were sent out in the months leading up to the Beijing Olympic Games. China used this event to justify its visa restrictions on foreigners in general, and Africans in particular. Since the games, things have never been the same again as far as the issuing of visas for Africans is concerned. In the rare cases where avenues exist for obtaining or extended visas, the prices are exorbitant.

China’s ever-changing and “hard to define” visa policy is its main weapon against African migrants. “In perhaps the most stark indication of discomfort with mass African immigration” says Reuters reporter James Pomfret, “Guangzhou authorities have refused to allow more open and transparent immigration policies particularly for visa extensions.”

If the Olympic Games provided the inspiration for the tightening of China’s visa policy against Africans, the financial crisis provided the justification. “One thing that has been very apparent” says Gordon Mathews, an academic at Hong Kong’s Chinese University, “is the arbitrariness of visa issuance in China.” The two groups of African migrants who have been hit most by this situation are the African business community and African teachers in China.

The African Business Community in China in the heart of the Global Down turn

africans in china

Though Chinese goods still have the lion’s share of the African market today, there are increasing concerns about the quality of these goods throughout Africa. The reduction in the purchasing power of many Africans as a result of the global financial crisis has made business difficult for African business people shuttling between China and Africa. This problem has been exacerbated by the soaring cost of visas.

For the African business community that lived in China on the eve of the Olympic Games, business almost came to a complete halt because of the complete absence of possibilities to obtain or extend visas. Because of this situation, many Africans were left with expired visas and sank underground where many still remain and operate as “overstayers.”

These are the prey of China’s police forces. “They just want to arrest you, collect money, then arrest you again” said Paul Omoshola, a Nigerian businessman in Guangzhou. On their part, China’s security forces blame the rise of criminality on Africans. The Shenzen Daily for example reported a group of Cameroonian fraudsters apprehended by the police in March 2009. Such situations provide justifications for a heavy-handed approach towards Africans.

African Teachers in China: Facing Increasing Economic Challenges

Africans constitute a significant number of (English) teachers in China. This group continues to endure discrimination on the basis of their color alongside many other hardships, especially when it comes to obtaining or extending work visas. For the few that have secured regular teaching jobs, and therefore bypassed the slippery visa restrictions, the newest and dangerous threat is the rising number of whites thronging into China in search of teaching jobs because of rising unemployment in their home countries.

Under normal circumstances, a Chinese employer will employ an African as a last resort. It is less an issue of qualification, competence or experience than of color. The Chinese system of negotiating, arguing or bargaining salaries on an individual basis leaves many Africans at the rock bottom of the salary scale. With few employment opportunities, lower salaries and sliding exchange rates these immigrant workers hardly meet their dream of sharing in China’s economic boom.

Difficult times at home have not prevented African migrants from looking east towards China especially as western doors are increasing shut against them. As China secretly floods Africa with its own population and goods, it is clear that an equilibrium will only be reached when Beijing lives up to the full meaning of its supposed “win-win” relationship with Africa.

About the Author

- Paul Linus is an eminent online journalist who has been writing news, features and editorials on different websites from across the world for about a decade. He can be contacted at

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