As loans to African countries decline, thousands of Chinese workers go home

Between 2015 and 2018, 62,600 workers returned to China. From a high of US$ 24.9 billion in 2016, Chinese lending plummeted to around US$ 9 billion in 2018. Angola saw the largest decline of Chinese workers. More and more local labour is employed by Chinese companies.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – In recent years, tens of thousands of Chinese workers who emigrated to Africa have returned to China, reversing a well-established trend.

According to two consultancy firms, the global company Oxford China International Consultancy (OCIC) and Beijing-based Development Reimagined, the return coincides with a drop in loans provided by the Chinese government to African countries.

An estimated 62,600 Chinese workers left Africa between 2015 and 2018, with the overall number declining from over 263,000 to roughly 201,000, the research firms found. The year 2015 was the high point, when China signed most contracts with African governments.

The research notes that some Chinese workers may have remained in Africa after changing their residence status. After working in construction projects, they become small traders.

The survey is also based on official data, and does not count illegal immigrants.

The Chinese government does not provide information on the amount of its foreign loans, often linked to the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi Jinping's grand plan to link China, Africa and Europe along new Silk Roads.

The China Africa Research Initiative at John Hopkins University calculated that, between 2000 and 2018, China lent a total of US$ 148 billion to about 50 African states.

From a high point of US$ 24.9 billion, Beijing's lending dropped to around US$ 9 billion in 2018.

Angola is the country that saw the sharpest drop in this period: from US$ 19.3 billion to US$ 80 million.

Chinese workers employed in the former Portuguese colony went from 44,000 in 2015 to 27,000 in 2018. Algeria, which hosts the largest number, they went from 91,000 to 60,000.

The return of workers to China is also due to the growing demands of African governments to employ local staff in projects financed by the Asian giant.

A 2019 study by the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London found that in Ethiopia 90 per cent of jobs at Chinese firms went to locals. In Angola, the number was 75 per cent.