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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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Teachers in China - Pranks, Pitfalls and Prosperity.    

By Garreth Humphris
2678 Views | 2 Comments | 3/29/2011 1:35:43 AM

One of the groups most likely to be 'working blind' in China is the 'English Teacher', for unlike other foreign workers in China they do not have ready access to trustworthy advice, tenacious secretaries or unlimited company resources to resolve 'life's little inconsistencies' in China.

Relying on your employer can be a daunting episode in China - because often they are not necessarily working in your best interest!...after all, they are looking for a 'foreign face' to increase the profile of their business and they are looking to remove as much money from their unsuspecting students at the lowest possible cost!! Unfortunately this seems to be the nature of most training centers and training franchises, although there are exceptions to all rules!

There are some names of agents and schools that consistently show up on the blacklists of ESL websites - it would be in your interest to check out these on-line, with one of the best being Dave's ESL website - search for this on your favorite search engine, it's easy to find! Check for variations of a name too, because the agents in question unusually have a number of similar aliases.

Some general rules of thumb are that a school, training centre or other entity should be able to start 'visa requirements' within 1 week of you starting working, in their own name... You should not tolerate a long probationary period or stories of 'no hurry, next week'.

If they can't do paperwork, they might not be legitimate and you are risking troubles with immigration if you use them to get your visa.

For a teaching position 'working permit', the stated 'minimum' is a degree, or a 'TESOL certificate and relevant professional experience'. Exactly what this constitutes in each Immigration Bureau can be different - and may bend a little on the employer's relationship with this group...but in general this will mean a certified copy of your Qualifications, trade certificates and other evidence. A solid resume is also needed stating your 'uniqueness'. Many people will tell you 'different' and this may be the case where they are, but I have noticed a definite 'tightening' of requirements in the last few years.
Personally, these days my training business doesn't employ anyone without a degree and experience - I just can't afford the damage it causes. But in the past I have been more lenient! To put this in proportion, I have invested 100,000 USD in licenses, facilities and capital and I'm not about to let anyone jeopardize this investment or my own existence in China!!

A word of caution, it is never a situation that anyone needs to have your passport - please insist on this because employer confiscation of a passport is was a common 'practise' a few years back and I have heard of it recently too...if they need your passport, take a photocopy and give it to them, a photocopy has all the information they need!!! If you need to show the passport to the authorities, accompany the person to the Visa Office. If you need to hand over your passport to these authorities, then get an official receipt from them. And insist that you will come and collect it when it is ready. The school cannot hold your 'work permit' either, even for 'safekeeping', so make sure you keep your documents together and away from your employer.

In China, only certain classifications of Chinese businesses can employ foreign workers. Many schools, private training centers, tutor centers or education-based 'others' are not able to do this, even though they will say they can (and will use delaying tactics), say they have a 'relationship' so you don't need it, tell you to say that you are 'helping, not working' or introduce you to a friend whose company will employ you and then 'lend' you to the training company. In the past, these have worked to a limited degree, but none are guaranteed to ensure that you are 'safe and legal'.

So let's work through these scenarios and understand how the might affect you. The most usual ploy of 'illegally employing foreigners' are to 'lull' you into reassurance that 'everything is ok' and that the boss is 'handling' the paperwork. A common trick is to have you work on a 1-2 month project without a contract and a visa, promising to 'pay you at the end' only to have them disappear without a trace 2 days before payment - this is especially prevalent through summer programs or IELtS classes over the holiday times.

Another is to claim you don't work, because you don't have a permit or a contract with them, just a verbal agreement to 'help' them for free because you like children! They then offer to pay you in front of the police who promptly arrest you for 'working illegally'.

They might suggest you have a probationary program of 1-3 months, in which they pay you 'half wages' or 'reduced rate' and then make up the difference later when you have a 'full job' with them, but after you have used your own money a few times to get to HongKong, renew your visa and come back, the 'don't need a full- time teacher' anymore, but they'll happily keep you on 'part time' with reduced rate and benefits and no work permit.

A well-known franchise offers huge incentives after a 12 month contract but forces teachers to work 3 months of the year on 'probation' so they don't ever reach 12 months full service...if a teacher signs again they repeat the probation period.

Some will hire you to 'take over a class' for a month or two and then sack you, employing a new teacher to cover you...crazy but common. The cost of tax, visas, medicals and promised accommodation or airfares home is more significant that a young receptionist trolling the Internet for gullible teachers.

Another common trick is to employ you through an 'agent company' so that you are 'signed' on the books of one company and work in another! This is okay except that changes in the last few years to the employment laws and payroll tax laws make it gratingly obvious that this is happening and tour 'record' of having been employed by the agent company mysteriously vanishes after the paperwork is given and everyone denies everything if there is trouble. If you have a despite with the school, they aren't employing you, ate they? Some other company is, so go complain to them!!!
One caveat of this is that some of the larger 'franchises' is incorporated in another city, so might offer you a 'working visa' in that city and a 'transfer' to a new location for a period of time...at the moment, this seems to be workable, but can cause troubles if you leave this job because 'officially' you are living and working in another city...you might need to go there to 'finish' the job. This situation is prone to change soon, so it might be closed to you by the time you read this!!! The reputable franchises are probably 'localising' in the new city, but may cost them more money than they want to pay!!!

Beware the agent 'switch and bait' trick where they employ you to 'work in Shanghai' but this job mysteriously disappears and you are introduced to 2 men from inner-nether province and are bundled in a truck to take you there 'for a look' but because you don't speak the lingo and there are no public buses, you are stuck alone. Check the agent names on the ESL sites and don't go if you smell a rat!!!

Also common is to delay paperwork for a period of time and then claim that they cannot do the paperwork because you don't meet the criteria - a degree, TESOL certificate, medical certificate - and if you provide this (at you expense) they say 'too late' or 'we can't process' but they ahve their 6 months out of you!!! All they really wanted!

As you can see, these are pretty small and only provide mild annoyance and loss of a bit of money - there are other situations that can be downright dangerous!!! So be aware.

Another idea is be cautious of the 'well-meaning' opinions of others - for every teacher that has been 'scammed' there seems to be another 2 teachers who have a 'scam' to obtain the 'papers' be it a fake TESOL certificate, mail-order degree or other salubrious documents.
Be aware that the authorities are becoming aware of these and checking authenticity.
Don' bother 'buying' visas and work permits off the Internet, most are fake and you only find out when you go to leave or do anything else 'important' in your life!


At the suspension of employment it is usually necessary to get a 'letter of departure' from the school to allow you to transfer to another school or city - essentially it says you have no claims against the school and they have no claims against you.
This letter can sometimes be used as a 'leverage tool' against you so be aware of this...get it before you 'burn your bridges' with the boss.
Be aware that if you are leaving China and will return at some later time, without this letter you may have issues with transferring to a new job and you may have to travel back to the last place to get this!!

Actually, I should caution you on 'burning bridges' too...it is amazing how 'interconnected' schools and training organizations can be! You might be working for your former bosses' illegitimate half brother the next week, so keep everything 'normal and nice' if you can.
Once you leave, you should try to get a new work permit within a month if you want to stay and work and be aware that some companies will invalidate your visa (in fact, it is a requirement under Chinese Law to do this, but most businesses are too lazy to to this). Technically you are illegal if this happens so you can get 'issues'.

To finish up, research and be aware of your requirements and any 'activities' that might jeopardize you obtaining a 'working permit' within 1 month... Good luck

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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(Showing 1 to 2 of 2) 1
#2012-01-22 23:54:50 by anonymous3187 @anonymous3187

great information. we are virgins here in america trusting and want to give. but actually we are more like prey. thanks !

#2015-07-04 20:52:28 by Barry1 @Barry1

It's astonishing that a great article like this attracted only one brief comment.

I wonder how Gareth must've felt at the disappointing apathy shown by the greater CLM community at this time? Shameful stuff.

Unfortunately it was written before my time on CLM, otherwise I would've fulsomely congratulated Gareth on a well written, much appreciated and highly informative article that's of benefit to many members even to this day.

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