With school starting up again this week, a recent CCTV news report may hint at an increase in crackdowns on illegally employed ESL teachers.

In the video, a hidden camera captures a sight that surely many of us have never witnessed — foreign teachers working at a language mill without proper papers. Even the “Expats unqualified for language teaching in China?” title of the video seems to be painfully unaware of the humour in the banality of that question and the obviousness of its answer.

The report states that while there are about 1,000 properly registered foreign teachers in Heilongjiang, they suspect there “may be the same number working illegally in the province.” If my limited and now somewhat outdated experiences are anything to go by, I imagine that latter number is incredibly low.

The undercover journalist talks to a foreign teacher who explains that he doesn’t have a Foreign Expert Certificate, as he’s new and they require him to work there for a year before he qualifies to get it. Your guess is as good as mine on whether he’s purposefully lying in hopes of protecting himself, being willfully ignorant, or just clueless. It does raise a good point though — while there are surely a lot of teachers who understand the requirements and intentionally skirt them, I am willing to guess there are also a lot of unscrupulous schools that outright lie to new recruits. Ignorantia Juris non excusat, sure… but still.

So, if you happen to be teaching in China and are scratching your head with a bit of a “but my school told me…” look on your face, Lang Xianbo, Consultant of the Bureau of Foreign Experts Affairs in Heilongjiang Province, is here to add clarity:

“To teach legally a foreigner must get a Foreign Expert’s Certificate from our bureau from the language school they work for. They must also go to the local public security bureau for a work permit. They are not allowed to teach part time elsewhere.”

“To become a foreign expert one should be healthy and have no criminal record in his home country. He also needs to have a bachelor’s degree and two years teaching experience. If a foreign teacher doesn’t have Foreign Expert Certificate [sic] it means their qualifications have not been checked.”

No (legal) exceptions.

If you are working illegally, it is highly recommended you get on the right-side of things as soon as possible. Where 5 or 10 years ago it was very easy to come to China and work on a Tourist or Business visa nearly indefinitely, those days are quickly fading. It certainly appears to be the intention of Beijing to continue their crack-down on illegal immigration and people with improper work documents across the country — if your China microcosm hasn’t been hit yet, it is likely just a matter of time.

For more information about the legal side of this, check out R&P China Lawyers’ Lukas Steinberg’s article on the new laws brought in last year: New Foreign Labor Regulations Sharpen Penalties for Illegal Employment of Expatriates. In brief (emphasis mine):

Increasingly Severe Punishments for Non-Compliance

  • The legal stipulations send out a signal that the government is determined to bear down on individuals and companies who do not play by the rules with more severe and deterrent legal consequences and greatly increased penalties. In the end it remains to be seen whether the upper limits of the fines and sharper measures will be made use of on a frequent basis.
  • For each illegally employed foreigner, the employer will be fined CNY 10,000, and monetary gains from the employment will be confiscated. The maximum fine for companies who illegally employ foreigners is doubled from CNY 50,000 to CNY 100,000.
  • The new law explicitly states that expatriates are obliged to obtain the necessary employment documents. Illegally working foreigners could now be fined between CNY 5,000 and CNY 20,000, as opposed to a low former penalty of only CNY 1,000. In serious cases, foreigners may face detention.
  • Under the new law, stay without a valid visa is now subject to fines up to CNY 10,000, and detention for 5 to 15 days. However, illegally staying foreigners will be given a warning before being fined.
  • The most severe consequence foreigners should be aware of is the possibility of deportation. Where foreigners are found guilty of illegal immigration, residence or employment, they may not only be deported from the country, but additionally be banned from entering China for five years. Foreigners who violate Chinese laws can be requested to depart within a specified deadline, but severe (non-criminal) violations may even result in forced deportation, and such individuals may not be allowed to enter China again for a 10-year period. According to the law, assistance in illegal acts is also punishable.

One a final, irreverent, note: somewhat hilariously, and irresponsibly, the report shows a closeup at the 1 minute mark of a visa with a portion of the name blurred out presumably to protect the identity of the visa holder … an identity that is clearly visible in the coded lines at the bottom of the visa. Nice one CCTV.

h/t Shanghaiist


  1. As I recall from my years of teaching, it wasn’t the teachers being ignorant or unqualified, it was the schools that weren’t legally qualified to apply for an FEC. Of course, there were plenty of schools back then that faked qualifications to fill teaching posts–I worked with more than a few people without a college degree who had a legal FEC.

  2. Pingback: New Crackdown on English Teachers Working in China Illegally | TheNanfang

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