The UK remains one of Chinese students’ top three destinations for studying abroad, with 58,810 Chinese undergraduates studying in Britain in 2014. However, even if Chinese students want to stay in the UK to get a job they will have difficulty applying for a visa. Russ Shaw, the founder of Global Tech Advocates and Tech London Advocates says that the UK is now trying to “brain gain” these Chinese students, by providing Tier 2 visas to them.

Currently, most Chinese students go back home after graduating university in the UK. After studying at the University of Surrey in the UK, April Lin, a Chinese student also came back to Shanghai to start her career.

“I considered working in the UK for a little bit. I don’t know how hard it is to get a working visa there, but I do know it can be difficult,” April says. “In my opinion, more Chinese student-friendly policies, such as visa policies or policies related to a student’s well-being, would make more Chinese students stay in the UK and start their career.”

Neo Wang, another Chinese student also came back to Shanghai after getting a Master’s in computer science at Oxford University in 2014.

“After graduation, Chinese students should immediately go back to their country. This makes it hard for students to find a job there. To apply for a job before graduation is really tough. Before graduation, students are busy preparing for the final year project, and it’s hard for them to send out CVs and applications to companies,” Neo Wang says. “Maybe if the visa application was easier, it would make Chinese students stay in the UK longer after graduation. Three years ago, the UK helped students trying to find job stay in the UK for 2 years, however, they changed the policy.”

(Image Credit: Pexels)
58,810 Chinese undergraduates started studying in Britain in 2014 (Image Credit: Pexels)

Some Chinese students go on to start their business in the UK, but the situation is not straightforward for that either. While doing the undergraduate program at Liverpool, Neo Wang started an SNS service, Timeet, in 2013 with Chinese friends in the UK.

“We tried to fundraise for our company in the UK at that time, but it was very hard. We reached out to the UK government, but what the government offered to us was not very favorable,” he told TechNode

Neo Wang and his friends decided to come back to China to raise funding. They could easily raise funding in China, as a Chinese VC invested in his company.

Tech London Advocates, a private sector-led coalition of over 5,000 expert individuals from the tech sector, is working with the UK government to make it easier for Chinese students to stay in the UK for longer periods and start their business. This is one example of governments trying to keep Chinese talents, as they see many Chinese students want to become entrepreneurs after graduating university in the UK.

“I say, when you finish (your degree), don’t go back to China. We’d like you to stay. That will help us build the relationship between UK and China,” Russ Shaw, the founder of Global Tech Advocates and Tech London Advocates told TechNode. “Chinese students are going to go back to China to build their business because they know China. We have an opportunity to change that because there are so many Chinese students in the UK.”

Chinese students in the UK

“One of the things Tech London Advocates is working on with the British government is, how do we make it easier for people to receive Tier 2 visas,” the former Vice President of Skype, remarked, “so that it gets easier to set up businesses, and work in local companies.”

Tier 1 visas cover technician and entrepreneur visas for those who are setting up their business and looking to invest in the UK. So, it’s straightforward to get a Tier 1 visa.

“The issue that we are facing is how to make it easier for people like that to get a Tier 2 visa and to allow incubators, accelerators, and VC firms to sponsor Tier 2 visas. There are a lot of ministers I have spoken to who are very interested in that,” Russ says.

Three years ago, Russ introduced 10 startups to the Immigration Minister, so that founders from overseas, including Turkey, US, Europe, and China could tell him the challenges and issues they had to get the Tier 2 visa. The Immigration Minister heard directly from startups creating world-class businesses about how hard it is to get the visa here in the UK.

“The good news is that the government is listening. The opportunity is that, as the UK prepares to leave the EU and we won’t have freedom of movement without EU, we rethink the entire immigration system. We need to keep attracting skilled talent to the sector, and we need it to come from everywhere,” Russ says.

AI talents in the UK

In the country where Alan Turing first developed artificial intelligence, the UK has seen many bright talents in AI. LinkedIn is seeing a dramatic increase in job postings with good AI skills and data analytics in London. According to The Top Skills of 2016 on LinkedIn, United Kingdom has top skills in statistical analysis and data mining. Google’s acquisition of London-based DeepMind in 2014 served as an important catalyst to attract many startups to move to the UK. Now the AI brain power in the UK is drawing more Chinese companies, as they are interested in getting more AI scientists from the UK.

“Alibaba is investing AI in London. They’ve got 120 people in London. Alipay and the Alibaba Cloud division are very big in London. Chinese investors are coming to London to look at companies,” Russ says.

“Top universities in the UK really understand AI, and they have many AI genius. But there is a larger market in China a lot of companies need someone who understands AI. In the UK, they already have good AI people, but they have very small market compared to China. In China, the market is huge, but there are not enough people to do AI,” Neo Wang told TechNode.

Shanghai Tech Advocates launch event (Image Credit: Shanghai Tech Advocates)
Shanghai Tech Advocates launch event (Image Credit: Shanghai Tech Advocates)

Russ says there needs to be more collaboration between China and the UK. As part of their effort to create more alliances, the Tech Shanghai Advocates Launch Event was held in Shanghai hosted by the Global Tech Advocates and Cocoon Networks on October 26, 2017. This is the first event of Global Tech Advocates (GTA), a non-profit international elite organization founded in 2015, in China. With the official launch of the Tech Shanghai Advocates, the event announced the five technology working groups that will foster development: artificial intelligence, medical and biological, green technology, financial technology and big data.

“GTA is building a platform that can connect to the world. Technology-related industry advocates in different regions can create a unique and advanced international technology network. We are committed to building a global science and technology, entrepreneurship and investment ecosystem, to promote the exchange of ideas and cooperation between members, and continuously improve this ecological circle and sustainable development,” Russ said at the event.

Eva Yoo is Shanghai-based tech writer. Reach her at

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