English teachers in China take part in a training session in Beijing. Pic: AP.

English teachers in China take part in a training session in Beijing. Pic: AP.

On Sunday, a handful of Beijing institutions – among them, the Beijing Human Resources and Social Security Bureau, the Foreign affairs office of Beijing and the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education – released a decree reiterating the rules for hiring foreign workers and announcing that new, stricter regulations will be enforced starting on October 31. The new policy, while affecting all jobs, seems to target teachers in particular.

As before, a potential candidate should hold at least a bachelor’s degree, have a clean criminal record and, if applying for a teaching post, be aged between 18 to 60. Aspiring foreign educators who want to teach disciplines other than languages also need at least five years of relevant experience.

However, in an attempt to prevent newbies and amateurs from joining the ranks of teachers, higher qualifications will be necessary to work in education. Authorities will require prospective candidates to either have a qualification as a teacher when applying for a job, or pass a standardized, internationally recognized test such as Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), and The Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT).

For those who do not meet these requirements and are caught working, authorities promise a fair share of their wrath: “as for those foreigners who are employed here illegally, those people who introduce foreigners to illegal employment, as well as those ​companies and individuals who employ foreigners illegally, the Ministry of human resource and social security will coordinate with the police to conduct investigations and punish them according to the law,” reads the document.

Local media link the decision to two scandals that took place in Beijing and Nanjing last year. In April, Neil Robinson, a British citizen, was caught teaching in the Chinese capital while being wanted by British police for child abuse. Shortly afterwards, authorities found out that an unnamed 63-year-old US citizen previously convicted of child pornography offences had been working as a teacher in Nanjing.

Scandals aside, the new directives go hand in hand with the new restrictions on foreign nationals residing and working in the country recently approved by the central government. Last summer, authorities promulgated new directives concerning visas, which made it harder to enter China and increased punishments for transgressors.

The question that will probably flicker through the minds of educators around China’s capital is whether this is a prelude to a proper crackdown or just a cosmetic change. It would not be the first time the new government has targeted foreigners, and illegalities – in terms of contracts, visas and nationality – are not unheard of in the Chinese education industry, with companies hiring teachers without proper documents and avoiding any check on their background.

However, if authorities were to seriously implement the directives, they would likely cripple the English teaching sector, squeezing the number of teachers allowed to work – and allowing them to charge higher prices. Considering the huge demand for English teaching and the pivotal role that learning the world’s lingua franca plays in terms of educational possibilities and job prospects, it is legitimate to wonder to what extent administrators will be willing to go.

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