“Leave now,” says lawyer, as China cracks down on foreign teachers

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Chinese public security police officers.

“DO NOT teach in China” says American lawyer Dan Harris. Writing in his award-winning blog https://www.chinalawblog.com/, the international law expert recommends expatriates currently teaching there to “leave now.”

Shortly after the blog appeared, 19 people, including seven teachers working for EF, were arrested in the eastern city of Xuzhou. The story hit the headlines nationwide, with the China Daily running the headline “Keep toxic foreign teachers away from kids.”

EF issued a statement regretting the behaviour of its teachers and confirming it would dismiss those involved.

In his blog, Harris had warned of a crackdown on drug users, reporting stories of language schools suddenly ordering drug tests for foreign teachers. Cannabis use – which may have occurred before the teacher arrived in China – shows up in hair samples for up to four months. The surprise tests have resulted in teachers being jailed for at least a month, then deported, Harris reports.

Harris’ international law firm, Harris Bricken, has long received a steady stream of emails from EFL teachers “in trouble” worldwide, but in the three months up to June 2019 they saw a “ten-fold increase in prison, visa and payment problems” reported by teachers working in China.

Harris, whose legal practice does not cover immigration, argues that with China’s economy declining and its relations with the West worsening, “it is open season right now against foreign teachers.”

More than 40 UK nationals (not all teachers) were deported in the year up to April 2019, That’s magazine reports. The British Embassy told the magazine that the current crackdown is not restricted to the bigger cities but is country-wide.

One major problem involves teachers who are working on tourist visas, which is illegal. Many of these teachers do not qualify for the Z visa needed to teach, which since recent reforms, are limited to graduates with two years’ teaching experience, an entry-level TEFL certificate and a passport from an English-speaking country.

Unable to recruit qualified teachers, some unscrupulous agents bring in teachers illegally. The agents make false promises to underqualified teachers, promising they can begin teaching on a tourist visa and upgrade their status later. They can’t.

In July, three Chinese recruitment agents were sentenced to up to two years in jail, and fined up to £1,000 for supplying unqualified teachers to Beijing kindergartens. Bilingual preschools prefer EFL-qualified staff but often pay too little to attract Z visa staff.

But while the authorities are cracking down on teachers and agents, schools found to be employing teachers illegally generally get away with just a warning. China watchers say a new business model may be emerging, whereby dodgy employers hire illegal teachers, fail to pay them and turn them in to the immigration authorities before replacing them with new illegal staff.

According to Harris, complaints about salary payments are increasing. He quotes one email from a teacher claiming she and 75 colleagues from schools across her city had not been paid for months.

Harris alleges it’s now “not uncommon” for schools to make up claims about their teachers to avoid paying them. Once the teacher is deported they can replace them with another illegal teacher.

Image courtesy of WIKIMEDIA
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Matt Salusbury
News editor and journalist, has worked for EL Gazette since 2007. He is also an activist in the National Union of Journalists and co-edits its newsletter, the Freelance. He taught English language for 15 years in the Netherlands, in Turkey, in a North London further education college and now as an English for Academic Purposes tutor at the London School of Economics. He is a native English speaker and is also fluent in Dutch.