Miguel Montoya, a partner at KPMG, moved to China seven years ago. He is among 600,000 expatriates living in China. James Wasserman for The National
Miguel Montoya, a partner at KPMG, moved to China seven years ago. He is among 600,000 expatriates living in China. James Wasserman for The National

Expats on the road East

A tax expert's job does not sound too exciting to most people. But for Miguel Montoya, it landed him in Shanghai on a two-year assignment from the United States.

And that gig, which started in 2005, was extended until he decided to stay indefinitely. "I would say China chose me," Mr Montoya said in an email interview from Beijing, where he recently moved.

Mr Montoya is a partner with the transactions and restructuring group at the auditing and tax advisory firm KPMG.

China is not the only emerging market in Asia to have attracted talent from the West. India, one of the four largest Asian economies, is also attracting foreign talent for a diverse range of sectors.

"The enormous growth of the corporates of both [countries] has left them, despite the large populations, short of talent," said Nirmalya Kumar, a professor at London Business School.

Mr Kumar was in Dubai last month for an event to mark five years of London Business School in the region, and talked about the movement of talent among job markets. Mainland China, compared with India, has had foreign workers for a longer time and in more economic sectors. A shortage of skilled workers in the services sector, though, is one of the reasons that companies tend to hire foreign workers.

"At the time when I moved, there was a tremendous shortage of skills in a booming professional services industry in China," Mr Montoya said.

In seven years, the nature of expats moving there has changed. Earlier, they were mainly executives for multinational companies. Now, most of these jobs are being filled with local talent, Mr Montoya said.

The current crop of foreign workers in China tends to be younger and more entrepreneurial, mostly in professional services, advertising and luxury sectors. The Chinese government's stress on building research facilities and academic institutions means a lot of hiring is also going on in these sectors. Some expatriates of Chinese descent who studied in the West or have western nationalities, have taken jobs in China. They are often called "sea turtles".

However, professionals of non-Chinese origin have been appointed to top jobs in China. CEIBS, a Shanghai business school, attracted Bill Fischer and John Quelch as deans, from IMD and Harvard business schools, respectively.

Foreign professionalsworking in India are employed in sectors such as technology, banking, financial, car and pharmaceuticals, according to a 2010 Pryce Warner International (PWI) report. India's pharmaceutical and biotechnology hubs are also recruiting "repats" - Indians returning from abroad.

However, 10 per cent of expats give up on the experience each year because of linguistic and cultural barriers, the PWI report said.

In 2005, Infosys became the first Indian IT company to recruit directly from campuses in the US.

Joao Almeida, now an MBA student at Georgetown University in Washington, was in that original batch. He spent time mostly as a trainee in Mysore and Bangalore in southern India in 2006, was featured in a BBC article as the face of foreign workers in India's tech sector, and left the country after five and a half months.

Originally, he and many of the recruits were hired to be liaisons between the US clients and Indian IT development teams after their orientation was finished. He eventually left the company because he and many of the US recruits did not get the liaison positions due to the unpredictability of the number of such jobs available, Mr Almeida says.

Yet, he said, the experience was useful.

"Undertaking a role in an emerging market is a great way to prove oneself within a multinational," Mr Almeida said. "I would recommend this type of experience for any new graduate looking for a somewhat different experience that will give him or her some global perspective."

Language is one of the first problems to hit an expat worker, although it is not so in India, where English is the language of business.

For Mr Montoya, who said his Mandarin is reasonable but far from fluent enough to conduct business conversations, the language-learning process was "painstaking".

"Language and cultural training are essential," he said. "The most successful foreigners that I come across typically spent their initial years in China as students and only after being well immersed in the culture jumped into a professional career."

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