Haipiao, a word used to describe young people moving to Shanghai for versatile lives, now has a new interpretation: Chinese striving in a foreign country facing an uncertain future. Their nomadic lifestyle is encouraged by revised visa policies and their desire to develop themselves, usually free from social expectations back in China.

A MyCOS survey, among 5,126 college graduates who chose to undertake further study abroad in 2009, found that 43 percent of them planned to stay abroad after graduation, while 31 percent chose to return to China. The rest were not sure what to do.

“Their enthusiasm to try their luck in a foreign country is partly due to changes in visa policies,” said Wang Qian from Aoji Enrollment Center of International Education Ltd.

According to Wang, in 2008 the UK extended the validation time for the Post Study Worker (PSW) visa from one year to two years. With a PSW visa, international graduates can stay in the country, look for a job and decide on their future path.

“Men in China are expected to be well-established in a career at 30 and women should be worried if they are still single at that age,” said Li, who studied in the US for 12 years before returning in 2007. “To many this seems less attractive than Western culture which encourages more diversified lifestyles.”

Liu Xiao (a pseudonym), 30, agrees. He graduated with an MA from the University of Edinburgh in the UK and has been working as an engineer at Broadcom Corporation for four years.

But another overseas “drifter”, Lin Yanqin, has had a clear plan since graduating from Rikkyo University in Japan with a BA in tourism this March.

Working as a website editor in Tokyo, the 24-year-old is using her itinerant lifestyle to improve her CV.

“I don’t think I will have a competitive advantage unless I gain work experience here in Japan before returning to China,” said Lin.