PRC Nationals: When is it Time to go Home?


Posted on January 21, 2011 at 6:01 AM

Since the economic recession of recent years, PRC nationals practicing in America or the UK face a dilemma. With the job market being so competitive since the crash, it has become increasingly harder for Chinese nationals to get and keep a job in the US/UK at top firms. With pressures from these firms, the economic environment, and even their families, PRC nationals looking to return have to confront a difficult decision; when is it the right time to go home?


With the recent shortage in American legal jobs, law firms in the States will often times try to hire a PRC national for their Chinese practices as opposed to hiring them to work in one of their American offices. These candidates are often times top of their class at great law schools, and given their talents, background, and language skills they would make great additions to China based practices. What deters law firms from hiring and using native Chinese candidates in a US office is the idea that American candidates are more likely to stay in the US for the long term. According to the LA Times, in 2008, 50,000 Chinese students who studied abroad returned back to China, a number that is up 6,000 from 2007. These “sea turtles,” as the media calls them, have been lured back by the Chinese government’s initiative to recover from what some call a “brain drain” of the best talent from the PRC.

The American and British legal elite have aided this process of bringing back the best and brightest of the PRC. With China’s economic boom over the past decade, many top tier US and UK law firms have expanded to cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong in the hopes of cashing in on many of the new opportunities the Chinese economy presents. These firms have matured tremendously in the past couple of years, now providing extensive training and experience for their employees. The firms are also putting a lot of their resources into further developing their China practices. Many top Wall Street firms are hiring or promoting top partners (many of them PRC nationals) from around the US and China in the hopes of expanding certain practices like M&A or intellectual property. With the growing importance of having a strong Chinese presence, firms will likely continue this trend. [For more on this, see A Continuing Trend: Wall Street Firms Raiding British Magic Circle Firms]


With many of the US/UK firms developing their Chinese practices, it has become commonplace for a PRC national to move back to China and work for a US/UK firm. However, this comes with some hard work. Getting a top US/UK law firm on your resume is extremely important in being able to move back to the PRC and have the same or better job than you had in America. Their decision to go home comes with some other problems as well.

Of these issues facing PRC nationals moving back over to China, their family is usually at the top of the list. Some practicing lawyers here in the United States have become very accustomed to life in the US and their families have settled very nicely here. Once the time comes to move back over, they have to deal with problems such as what school to send the children to, where to live, how to sell their house/apartment in the US? Other problems include some PRC natives working toward an American citizenship, building a book of business in a place where they have not worked yet, and developing new friendships and relationships in their new environment.

Case Study: Young 5th year attorney, with 2 years living experience in Hong Kong. Fluent in English and Mandarin.

We approached this Southern California based attorney with an opportunity to work back in China, in Hong Kong. He was looking to move back soon, as he saw the move as a way to advance his career. However, he had a family, a home that lost value as a result from the housing bubble burst, and Hong Kong had become a very expensive city to live in. With our help along with the firm being so accommodating, he was able to find the perfect school for his children, and the firm helped him make up the difference between renting his house out in Southern California and paying the rent on his apartment in Hong Kong. In this case, the right time to move was when the right opportunity came up; a good opportunity coupled with the fact that the hiring firm helped the family become adjusted to their new life in Hong Kong.

Case Study: The following is an account of PRC national eight years post LL.M. graduation.

This candidate had worked at 3 big law firms in New York City as a senior associate; he was looking for a more senior position in the PRC because of his background and language skills. He was an M&A specialist, and he had gotten two offers from law firms in China to join their M&A departments. One was a top tier law firm, with an elite M&A team. The other was a less prestigious law firm with smaller M&A practice. Come time to make his decision, he had some issues with the move back to China. He had been working in the US for a good amount of time now, and he had a lot of colleagues and friends with which he had great relationships. He had developed many great business relationships, and with the move back to the PRC, he would have to develop new ones. He had also been working toward an American citizenship and was 6 months away from becoming a citizen. He approached the two law firms with his predicament, and the less prestigious firm allowed him to complete his citizenship and covered the expenses of his move back home. Unlike many recruiting firms, we deal with a lot of the personal issues that candidates face when thinking about moving back to China. We treat their personal issues and problems the families have with the utmost importance, as we know these can be very stressful when thinking about moving back to China.


There are some Chinese natives that don't want to move back to China. Some become very comfortable in America and would like their families to remain here and live here long term. Nevertheless, they can often times run into the problem of having their firm want to move them over to a China office to help develop their business abroad. There are some ways for PRC nationals to better their chances of staying in the US or UK though. Specialization is one way for a PRC national practicing in America to be able to stay in America. Public interest law and immigration law are two common practices PRC nationals focus on because they are not skills that are generally transferable. US immigration laws are US specific so they are not as marketable for overseas firms. This usually requires going to a smaller firm, possibly a less prestigious one, in order to stay in the US.

However because it is becoming more and more troublesome for PRC nationals recently awarded their JDs or LL.Ms to find jobs here in America, moving back to China is sometimes the only viable option. It is generally much easier for PRC nationals with a JD to get a job in a big law firm here compared to a PRC national with a LL.M these days. Yet with firms always wanting to bring these Chinese natives over to China with them, working in the States has become a very hard thing to do. Dan Harris, who runs the China Law Blog, wrote, “Are the Chinese students with United States secured Juris Doctorates who are not getting jobs in the United States getting jobs elsewhere in the world?” He even commented on Peking University’s new school of Transitional Law which awards US JDs, “I hate to be so practical, but with so many Chinese having to return to China without jobs after graduating from US based J.D. programs, I have to wonder whether there will be jobs for the graduates of this school.” This leaves me wondering whether the move back to China for PRC nationals is even a decision they can make on their own; or is it a situation that is forced on them due to the legal job market and pre-conceptions that law firms have of Chinese candidates. This is certainly something that PRC nationals must consider before deciding to go to law school here and beginning their careers here.

Moving back to China is a big decision for many PRC nationals working here in America, which brings about many smaller issues and predicaments that put excess stress and strain on an already tough decision. Picking the right time to move back over is a decision that must be made strategically and carefully, and Cypress Recruiting is a place that knows that.

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