Some 217,000 foreigners held work permits at the end of 2008, up from 210,000 a year earlier, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Thousands more use temporary business visas and go abroad regularly to renew them.
Reasbeck said it took her two months to find the drugstore job after she graduated from Boston's Emerson College with a degree in writing, literature and publishing. She said she applied to as many as 50 employers nationwide.
Today, on top of her teaching job, she works part-time recruiting other native English-speaking teachers. She makes 14,000 to 16,000 yuan ($2,000 to $2,300) a month. "I could have a pretty comfortable life here on not a very high salary. English teachers are in high demand," she said.
Reasbeck said most of her college classmates are in part-time jobs or unemployed. "People are sleeping on their mom's couches, as far as I know," she said.
While many jobs require at least a smattering of Chinese, some employers that need other skills are hiring people who do not speak the language.
Bangyibang.com's founder and CEO, Grant Yu, has five foreign employees in his 35-member work force. Yu plans to add more and said he might hire applicants who cannot speak Chinese if they have other skills.
"I don't believe language is the biggest obstacle in communication, as long as he or she has a strong learning ability," Yu said.
Feng Li, a partner in a Chinese-Canadian private fund in Beijing that invests in the mining industry, said he needs native speakers of foreign languages to read legal documents and communicate with clients abroad. He plans to recruit up to six foreign employees. "We don't need Chinese guys who speak English like me," Feng said.
Some foreigners see China not just as a refuge but as a source of opportunities they might not get at home.
"Having one or two years on your resume of China experiences is only going to help you back at headquarters in the United States or if you apply for business schools," said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai.
A 28-year-old former London banker took a job a year ago with a Chinese private equity firm after the crisis devastated his industry at home.
He said that even though he spoke no Chinese, his experience and contacts made him a sought-after asset in China, a market that he said offers "a much faster route to a top-level position." "I actually earn more out here," said the banker, who asked not to be identified by name at his Chinese employer's request. "And the hours are much shorter."
Konstantin Schamber, a 27-year-old German, passed up possible jobs at home to become business manager for a Beijing law firm, where he is the only foreign employee. "I believe China is the same place as the United States used to be in the 1930s that attracts a lot of people who'd like to have either money or career opportunities," Schamber said.
Job hunters from other Asian countries also are looking to China. An Kwang-jin, a 30-year-old South Korean photographer, has worked as a freelancer for a year in the eastern city of Qingdao. He said China offered more opportunities as South Korea struggles with a sluggish economy.
Still, foreigners will face more competition from a rising number of educated, English-speaking young Chinese, some of them returning from the West with work experience, Rein said. "You have a lot of Chinese from top universities who are making $500-$600 a month," Rein said. "Making a case that you are much better than they are is very hard."