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No place like home for migrant workers

Yuan Hengjun and his wife Yang Zhengxiang in their 112-square-meter apartment built in 2015 in Nanzhanglou village, Qingzhou city, Shandong province. Wang Jing/China Daily

With a population of 944,000, which barely makes it a fourth-tier city in China, Qingzhou in Shandong province is almost unknown to the outside world.

Still, its downtown roads are named for some of the best-known cities in the world, including Tokyo, Paris and New York. That's not because of a false sense of globalization; instead, the names reflect the fact that a large number of local residents have traveled overseas, including to African nations and the United States, to find work.

Nanzhanglou, a village in Qingzhou, was a center of the trend in the 1990s, and about 600 of the settlement's 4,200 residents have worked or are working overseas in sectors that include construction, electronics, farming and retail business.

"There is no need to pay for interpreters if foreign guests visit our village," said Yuan Xiangsheng, the village head. "We have residents who speak foreign languages fluently, including French, Japanese, English [MG_SEO]and Portuguese. You name it, we speak it."

However, since the years of heavy job-related emigration in the 1990s and early 2000s, the number of people heading overseas has declined.

The Wangfu Shopping Plaza in Qingzhou is home to the largest number of agencies in the city that provide services, advice and contacts to workers hoping to gain employment overseas. At one time, more than 40 agencies were located at the three-story center, but now only a quarter of them remain in operation.

"The market is not booming as it was in the 2000s." said Zhang Yumei, a consultant at the Guolian Labor Force Exportation Service Center, adding that the average age of those seeking work overseas is older than before.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, the number of people applying to work overseas has fallen in the past four years, and between 2014 and 2017, the number moving overseas for work fell from 562,000 to 522,000.

By the end of 2014, an extra 153,000 Chinese were working overseas, compared with 2013. However, last year, the number was just 10,000 more than in 2016.

"Many of our applicants are ages 45 to 60. They find it difficult to adapt to the domestic labor market and earn incomes equivalent to people working overseas," Zhang said, displaying the dozens of applications the center has received in the past few weeks.

Most are middle-aged, while a few are age 20 and younger but they have poor education backgrounds, most just hold high school graduation certificates.

The most popular destinations include Singapore, South Korea and Japan, which require plumbers, workers for automobile assembly lines and electricians. Some countries require applicants to hold professional certificates, while others provide training for new employees. The agency charges applicants 50,000 to 80,000 yuan ($7,960 to $9,550) dfidget spinner whiteepending on the type of work they are seeking.

In countries such as Australia, France and New Zealand, chefs are in high demand, but the agency charges a higher fee to arrange those jobs, usually 150,000 yuan to 170,000 yuan.|