The global economic slowdown and improved personal incomes at home have led to a decline in the need and supply for Chinese workers overseas.

“We had about 10,000 Chinese workers in Africa from 2011 to 2014, but the number has now declined to around 1,000,” said Cui Hao, deputy general manager of the Overseas Engineering Company of China Tiesiju Civil Engineering Group.

Headquartered in Hefei, Anhui province, CTCE Group is a major player in the construction sector overseas, especially in Africa.

Cui said one of the major causes for the drop is the completion of its social welfare housing project in Angola last year. The project, with a contract value of more than $2.1 billion, provided jobs to more than 8,000 Chinese laborers.

“Recently acquired projects on the continent are mainly the construction of roads and railways, which rely more on machines than humans,” said Cui.

The drop in exported labor was also witnessed by Hefei’s Feidong county, which has been the largest source of overseas workers in the province for decades.

“In 2012, at the peak, the county saw as many as 15,000 migrant workers overseas, but the number dropped to around 13,000 last year,” said Guan Shaohua, deputy director of the bureau of commerce in Feidong, which has a population of about 1 million.

“About 80 percent of the workers are employed in the construction sector.”

According to Guan, the county’s overseas workers earned about 1.5 billion yuan ($229 million) last year, and are one of the major buyers of local apartments.

Cui said the number of CTCE Group’s Chinese employees in Africa is the lowest since the company’s large-scale entry into the continent in 2008.

“Influenced by the global economic slowdown, many countries have been troubled with climbing unemployment rates. As a result, more and more of them have started to limit the employment of Chinese workers, which was not seen years ago,” said Cui.

A work visa for Angola has become harder to get, while Venezuela has ruled that companies need to hire at least nine local workers for each Chinese.

“Similar ratios are also required by some other countries,” said Cui, whose company has been operating mainly in Africa, South America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Li Mei’s husband has been working for a Chinese construction company in Singapore since 2011.

Though he earns about 100,000 yuan annually, he will come back next month for good.

“Domestic salaries are also climbing. Though he can still earn more overseas, he is just too far away and is not able to take care of me and our daughter,” said Li, a 46-year-old resident of Baohe district in Hefei.

Guan of the bureau of commerce said some workers from Feidong are now working in Japan and Singapore, which have better social security conditions, but these countries also tend to hire more workers from places such as Vietnam and Laos, “since people from there are often paid less”.

By ZHU LIXIN and MA CHENGUANG Feb. 26, 2016 on China Daily

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