Teaching in China is Risky for Foreigners These Days, Here’s Why

By Matthew Bossons, August 13, 2019

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The writing is on the wall: Being a foreign teacher in China is not as easy as it used to be, and the days of teaching here without the appropriate visa or education credentials appear to be numbered. 

Since early July, we’ve noticed what seems like an uptick in teacher detainments, along with several government announcements related to increasing education oversight and the policing of unqualified workers.

On the morning of July 10, authorities in Jiangsu announced that they had detained 19 people after they failed drug tests. Of those detailed, 16 were foreigners – seven teachers and nine students – and one of the individuals was held by police under criminal law (as opposed to simply administrative detention). According to reports, all of the teachers worked at English First (EF), a notable English-language training center company in China.

Less than a month after the events in Jiangsu and more than 1,500 kilometers away, police in Foshan, Guangdong busted five foreign teachers who were working illegally at an English-language training center inside a shopping mall in Nanhai district. The teachers, who were from Africa and Europe, were fined RMB5,000 and their visas were canceled. As for the training center itself, it was hit with a whopping RMB50,000 fine and the boss is being held legally responsible for the whole episode by the Nanhai police sub-bureau.

There have been other cases, too, but perhaps more telling are recently announced government initiatives set to target unqualified foreign teachers and those working on tourist and business visas.

READ MORE: Foreign Teacher Arrested for Molesting Child in China

On July 12, China’s Ministry of Education released strict new rules for online education companies as the Central Government looks to further crack down on the massive after-school tutoring industry. The new guidelines require that online education institutions publicly display the personal details of their foreign employees in a “prominent location” on their platforms. This includes teachers’ names, pictures, previous academic and professional experience and teaching qualifications.

Online training institutions that fail to comply with these rules – and more – will be blacklisted and have their information included in the national credit information sharing platform. Yikes.

And earlier this month, education authorities in Guangdong announced that all education institutes in the province, from universities all the way down to small training centers and kindergartens, must undertake rigorous background checks of all foreign teachers they employ. In addition, no foreign employees “are allowed to be recruited as teachers before being granted work permits and residence permits” and schools must create ‘files’ for each individual by mid-September.

The new rules were released on the Guangdong Provincial Department of Education’s website and state that files on foreign teachers will be submitted to local departments for education, public security, science and technology and foreign expert affairs.

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Image via Pexels

But it’s not just us that have noticed the trend: Earlier today, Reuters published an article exploring the soaring number of foreign teachers in China that have been arrested and deported over the last year “amid a broad crackdown” to create a “cleaner” and more patriotic learning environment.

The report cites an internally disturbed memo at EF, which runs 300 education facilities across China, that claims the company has seen a substantial increase in people being detained for alleged narcotics and cybersecurity offenses, as well as fighting. The document was sent to EF employees on June 27.

Additionally, Reuters spoke to four law firms that said that requests for legal representation from foreign teachers in China have surged between four and tenfold over the past six months.

Reuters notes that many of the legal cases against foreign teachers based in China are the result of “new and enhanced drug-testing measures, including testing methods that can track drug use over a longer time,” such as hair tests. (Hair follicle tests can, for example, detect cannabis and cocaine use during the 90 days preceding the test, according to Healthline.)

That’s can independently confirm that hair follicle tests have taken place in major Chinese cities, from Guangzhou and Shenzhen to Shanghai and Kunming, among others.

Embassies and other diplomatic outposts in China have not been blind to this trend. Over the past half year, UK diplomatic offices in China have released numerous warnings to foreigners regarding illegal drug use.

READ MORE: What You Need to Know About China's Recent Drug Crackdown

But drug users are not the only folks in China’s education industry that are at risk: As noted above, document checks at schools and training centers have been increasing in China.

“I’ve noticed, nowadays, government checks [have increased] and there is more attention on English teachers,” a senior Chinese staffer at a popular Guangzhou-based English-language education company tells us, adding “I don’t think it is a good thing, because too many people in China need to learn English and [if this crackdown continues] we will not have enough English teachers.”

Reuters’ report states that both a Beijing international school and a Shanghai-based teaching agency were able to confirm the rise in foreign teacher arrests. That’s editors in Guangzhou are familiar with several cases of foreign teachers being detained since the end of 2018 – most of which related to drug busts at bars and clubs, although two cases involved teachers working illegally on expired documents or the wrong visa. Editors in our Shanghai and Shenzhen offices are also able to confirm teacher arrests in their respective cities.

When asked what advice he’d give to people thinking of coming to China to work illegally, one South China-based training center manager told us this: “Find somewhere remote to work, out of a major city. Other than that, it’s just not worth the risk anymore. Otherwise, find somewhere willing to put you on a volunteer contract or unpaid internship for paperwork purposes.”

Our advice? Don’t work illegally in China, as the educator quoted above notes: it’s just not worth the risk. The China Law Blog takes this even further, advising people that are thinking about working in China as a teacher not to do it, and seek employment in other countries such as Thailand, Japan or Vietnam. 

With files from Ryan Gandolfo and Jesse Pottinger

[Cover image via Pixabay]

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