Less and less foreigners are becoming teachers in China. In the 2012 annual report of the China Foreign Teachers Union I learned that today there are 7,800 less “FTs” than in 2011 and my curiosity sparked an investigation and thus this article after I learned some dirty little secrets I will share with you here and now…
A foreign teacher earns $25,000 a year on average while the recruiter who found him to work in one of 17,000 schools and “learning” or “training centers” scattered over 32 provinces average $75,000 a year legally, and perhaps twice as much illegally selling resumes along with copies of passports and visas to identity thieves. There are at least 20,000 fake scam agents like those above along with 10,000 “legitimate” agents who cause just as much grief and problems for FTs. Agents average 6-8 recruitment every month. For both species of recruiters, the foreign teacher represents low-hanging fruit for financial exploitation. While the scam agents profit from up-front fees and $300 per file to identity theft rings, the “legitimate” agent earns even more money in a most unethical and despicable fashion.
The greedy agents place hundreds of free ads all over the internet offer fantastic teaching jobs in China that ostensibly offer $30,000 - $50,000 salaries, free housing, meals, healthcare insurance, paid vacations, bonuses, airfare reimbursements, visa support, and in some cases, even free Chinese lessons! For young university graduates in the West facing dismal job prospects in floundering economies, these “Work In China” ads seem like a timely blessing – a dream job. That’s the promise.
Unfortunately the young FTs only learn the sad and brutal reality AFTER they arrive in China, sign contracts, and turn their passport over to the agents who say they need it to get working visas for the new arrivals. First they learn that they will always be paid one month later for the previous month’s work and when that payday rolls around they get the shocker… Their paycheck is less than half of that promised by the agent. Not only did the agent deduct his/her 20%-40% but the school informs the newbie teacher that they are on probation for 3-6 months and while on probation they only received probationary salary which is usually 50% of what was promised. Also, the health care insurance does not kick in until you complete your probationary period!
The housing provided is sharing an old and dirty shoebox size with 2 or 3 other new foreign teachers that is so unappealing, that teachers try to spend as little time there as possible. Working hours for the ne FTs are 50-60 hours per week with Monday usually being the day of. But work hours are on split shifts where teachers have to teach 2 hours in the morning, 4 hours in the afternoon, and 2 hours in the evening, leaving little or no time for sightseeing or any personal chores or social life. Teachers typically endure and suffer in silence as they anticipate the end of the probation period and finally receiving that $30,000 - $50,000 promised. The agent however, collected his $1,000 signing bonus after the first 30days, and continues to collect his monthly percentage, as they work an average of four hours per day and take weekends off.
But the final stab of the knife comes squarely in the back only a day or two before the probationary period is scheduled to end. That is when the newbie FT is called into the office and is terminated with a BS story that goes something like this… “Management has decided to downsize the teaching staff and the new teachers are the first to be dismissed.” or “The training director says your teaching style is not compatible with our school’s standards.” Most new FTs are too shocked to respond or blow a fuse in fear they might not get their last pay check next month.
But by the time that last pays day rolls around, they learn that their visa will expire and unless they find another job quick, they will have to leave China without getting paid. But they are assured that their last paycheck will be wired to their account back West, which by the way, seldom happens. But on your last visit to see their former employer about their pay, they see a bunch of new foreign faces starting off at square one of the same ruse they just completed! Clearly this exploitation was premeditated and frankly 100% legal. This "probationary" scheme is common and essentially allows schools to obtain teachers for half price for up to six months.
If a teacher raises hell about and starts filing formal complaints with government agencies, backdoor arrangements can be made to have the teacher blacklisted or become "passively deported" a term used that means their visa will simply not be renewed without explanationand they will have to leave China. According to a 2012 survey taken by the China Foreign Teachers Union, 37% of the teachers report being lured into this scheme and squarely blame the agents who are qwell-aware of their fate in advance. The same CFTU survey reflects that 79% of FTs in China regret becoming a teacher in China.
But the CFTU is determined to make a change on behalf of the 40,000 teachers working throughout China. As China's first and only private labor unio, they cannot function the same way as traditional labor union in the West, but they have taken meaningful and aggressive action - both defensively and offensively. A visit to their website at www.ChinaForeign TeachersUnion.org will show you a huge blacklist of over 100 school and shady agents that defraud or otherwise abuse FTs. They even published two interviews they had with scam agents who were busted red-handed by the CFTU that gives incredible insight as to how lucratuive that fraud has become.
According to one CFTU director (Dominic), the real source of the problem is that since the employment agent industry is currently unregulated, what the agents get away with is technically semi-legal. The cops hear the same complaints so often that now they just smile. Why? Because they know a quick visit to supposedly "arrest" the bogey agent will yield him a quick 3,000 to 5,000 yuan bribe.
Once these scam agents are outed on-line by FTs or the CFTU they simply change their names, phone numbers and business cards. This is why the CFTU is now requesting the Ministry of Labor and Foreign Board of Experts to intercede and mandate a public registry of all employment agents online - complete with photographs and real names of the agents. Cody says "at least this provide some accountability, and a way to track down the perpetrators." In the interim, Dominic offers the following suggestion to any foreigner who wants to work in China...
"China is the world's largest iceberg. Its what you cannot see and what you are not told that will cause you the most problems and grief."
Until the agents become regulated he further advises all FTs to simply avoid them completely and visit the CFTU website where they can find direct links to direct employers through major online English language job portals and provided these other enlightening links...
BTW... all the scam agents are not Chinese. This fraud is so lucrative that a dozen foreign agents could not resist the easy money and now operate from the safety of on-line web sites, some of whom try to legitimize themselves by selling, books, tapes, and resumes - without the knowledge of the applicant. With economies and people struggling all over the world, almost any dishonest soul can cash in on this scheme right from their own home with less than a $1,000 investment for a website. It is that easy to defraud young university students saddled with the burden of student loans and hungry for a job. Indeed teachers have become like dairy cattle in China, a commodity to be bought, sold, and milked.
At present the only protection available to foreign teachers is provided by the online blacklist of schools and agents which teachers are urged to check before accepting any teaching job in China so they may benefit from the mistakes of others. Those who were already cheated and are owed more than 3,000 rmb from employers may want to report their experience to the CFTU for either resolution or inclusion on the blacklist. Those that want to help stop the abuse and exploitation of foreign teachers should forward this article or just the below link to all their friend now teaching in China, or even thinking about it. They will thank you for sure.
In view of the above it appears we now know why less and less foreigners are choosing the teaching profession in China. Certainly, a mystery no more.