Irish teachers held in China may not have known they were breaking law

Teaching English in China can be tricky affair due to unregulated agencies

It is a regular occurrence for police to raid language schools and detain the foreign teachers. Photograph: iStock

It is a regular occurrence for police to raid language schools and detain the foreign teachers. Photograph: iStock

 

The two Irish women who are currently being detained in China may not have known they were breaking the law.

The two women, one from Co Kildare and the other from Co Offaly were on working visas and teaching in Beijing schools.

They both took on an extra job teaching in a private school, which was not licensed.

It is understood these women did not believe there was any issue with the private school and had taken the jobs in good faith.

Teaching English in China can be a tricky affair as many of the employers are unregulated agencies who fail to complete the required documents for their teachers, leaving them stranded as illegal workers.

It is a regular occurrence for police to raid language schools and detain the foreign teachers, and normally schools are fined 10,000 yuan (€1,300) per illegal foreign worker.

One Irish teacher told of being held for 18 hours last year, despite having a legal visa, possibly because of some separate conflict between the owner of her school and the authorities.

However, to hold foreigners for nearly a week with minimal consular access is very unusual.

A large number of English-language teachers are employed by third-party agencies that earn commission on the teachers.

They often register the teachers on business or tourist visas rather than work visas, which foreigners require to legally earn money in China. These visas are issued by the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs (SAFEA).

Many foreign teachers do not know they are breaking the law.

Foreigners in China are then forced to make six-month visa runs to Hong Kong to renew their tourist or business visas.

Once they are placed, the situation can be grim, particularly outside of the main first-tier cities.

Teachers in the Irish community tell of arriving in cities they have never heard of - some of them bigger than Dublin - and being placed in squalid apartments before being forced to work long days, without days off.

It is a lucrative market as Chinese parents are prepared to pay higher fees to have native-English teachers for their children. Many non-native English speakers pretend to be native speakers to gain employment, and many of the agencies don’t care.

Working illegally is the most common reason for deportation among foreigners in China.

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