Ambiguous Visa Requirements for Expat English Teachers in China
It has been nearly twenty years since Dr. Rodney Clarkson was almost forced into bribing an official of the Foreign Affairs Office at the university where he taught in China, for writing his children’s names on the page labeled “Children” in his Foreigner’s Residence Permit.
His journal An American Teacher in China consecrates several chapters in documenting mistrustful encounters with the Chinese legal system. Today, expat English teachers in the country confront questionable business practices of the ESL industry and continue to live in an ambiguous climate of political bureaucracy.
According to Forbes, the market demand in China for expat English teachers is commensurate to Chinese parents’ willingness to pay much more for an “authentic” native speaker. Against the potential to capitalize on the increase of the profit margin, recruitment by employment agencies affirms the tendency to engage in illegal employment of foreign English teachers at the risk of breaking the law.
On the one hand, documents issued by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) on visa requirements state that an applicant should: 1. Hold a bachelor’s degree; 2. Have two years of teaching experience. Yet, inherent contradictions within the state policy obstruct the goal it proclaims to achieve.
One inconsistency consists in the tightening standards for obtaining a Z VISA, which is necessary for foreigners to procure a legal working status in China. Since April 2017, the variety of required credentials have expanded to divide foreign workers into three classes, testifying to an increased strictness on the level of verification: A (high level talents), Class B (professional personnel), Class C (foreigners who are nontechnical or service workers hired on a temporary/seasonal bases), reported Saporedicina. Yet, linguistic obscurity within the clause gives flexibility of open interpretation to employment agencies incentivized by the low cost of illegal hiring.
The structural paradox is perpetuated in the contention between foreign teachers sent away before completing their contracts due to failed materialization of documents from respective offices of the bureaucracy, and those instructed by recruiters to lie on their visa application to obtain work visas. In other words, policy no longer dictates.
The determination of a legal labor relationship between foreign teachers and their assigned companies comes under jurisdiction of the third party. The third party oftentimes carries out inherent contradictions within the policy for private gains. In cases of a non-existent labor relationship, access to arbitration is denied to “the foreign national illegally”, and no recourse is granted for teachers to reclaim credentials and money intercepted by their agencies, according to Vice.
The exclusionary nature of the hiring process is intensified by a lack of community support. “We have received no language training upon arrival, nor assistance in adapting to the local culture. Sometimes, when the assigned housing unit is within a university, teachers are kicked out and must find other places to live during the three-month holiday period,” said two expat English teachers currently working at Disney English in Chengdu. “Perhaps that’s a reason for which some expats have resorted to alcohol and nightclubs, so they don’t feel entirely alienated.”