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Texas ISD School Guide
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Travel, Teach, Live in China

How to Identify the Reputable Recruiters and the Illegitimate Recruiters in China
By:Gregory Mavrides, PhD

The best way to find employment as a teacher in China is to directly answer ads from schools that advertise on reputable and well-established websites that cater to foreign teachers, such as the ESL Teachers Board.

Another way of finding employment as an English teacher in China is to use the services of a recruiter. Although this can work to your advantage, it is absolutely imperative that you first ascertain that you are dealing with a reputable recruiter. This article will address what you need to know before deciding to work with a recruiter or recruitment agency.

For starters, there is no such thing as an “official” or “government approved” recruitment agency in China. There is both a business and recruitment license required for agencies to legally recruit foreign experts but there is no agency in China that can honestly tout itself as China’s “official” recruitment agency, although in fact many do. The oldest recruitment agency in China, founded in 1954, is ChinaJob.com and it is the only one specifically recommended and linked to by the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs (SAFEA). For 30 years they were the only recruitment agency in China. Now there are hundreds upon hundreds of such agencies, many claiming to be “official” or “government approved.” If you see such type of advertising claims, that is a sure sign the agency is not reputable and should be avoided.

A reputable agency will never charge the teacher a fee at anytime. If an agency or recruiter asks you for money at any point in the process, you need to cease all communication with that service immediately.

Legitimate agencies clearly identify themselves as recruitment agencies upfront while non-reputable agencies will attempt to deceive prospective teachers by using official sounding or academic types of names that suggest they are educational facilities, e.g., East China Research Academy, Harbin Institute for Foreign Studies, etc. (by the way, these are not real names but fictitious examples). In addition, legitimate agencies respect and adhere to the advisory guidelines set forth by the SAFEA, which include a bachelor’s degree and two-years of work experience. If you find that the agency is specifically advertising for foreigners who do not meet these basic guidelines, that could suggest that you are dealing with a illegitimate agency and you might be headed for a lot of heartache. Although each province and municipality is free to adopt their own set of rules regarding the hiring of foreign experts, most government officials do consider the possession of a bachelor’s degree and two-years of work experience to be the de facto, if not de jure, set of minimum requirements. (Schools may petition the local foreign expert bureau for special dispensation to hire foreign experts who do not meet the minimum requirements that have been officially adopted by the local or provincial government agencies.)

Reputable agencies are simply acting as brokers or mediators, such that your actual contract will be with the school itself and not with the agency. However, non-reputable agencies will attempt to solicit foreigners on behalf of schools that are not licensed by the SAFEA to hire foreign experts by either: 1) attempting to convince the teacher that it is perfectly legal to enter China on a tourist or business visa with which to begin employment or; 2) by using a third-party’s license number with which to process the foreign expert work certificate and letter of invitation. While a few isolated provinces will look the other way in regard converting an L-visa into a Z-visa, most do not. Consequently, doing so is a significant gamble and could easily place you in the position of either having to return home to reenter China with a Z-visa or continuing to work in China illegally. In addition, if you have used a recruitment agency to obtain a job, be absolutely certain to verify that the name of the hiring institution that is listed on the letter of invitation is the same school that you have been promised.

Finally, many (if not most) recruiters in China commonly use a “bait and switch” tactic of mass mailing advertisements to anonymous e-mail recipients—through several TEFL sites they have subscribed to—that describe very promising positions with unusually high salaries. Of course, once the recruiter is in possession of the recipient’s real name, e-mail address and application materials, these positions never seem to be available (the teacher is informed that either the school just withdrew the position or that it’s already been filled). The applicant is then offered a much lower-paying and far less desirable position in exchange for the promise that he or she will be given priority the next time a better position comes along, but, of course, it never does. As a rule, it is safest to avoid any recruiter or agency that has attempted to contact you through unsolicited and anonymous bulk e-mailing.

Unfortunately, the very best teaching jobs are rarely advertised because they are filled through word of mouth and by personal referrals from teachers already employed at and known to the school or university. In addition, competitive positions located in the three most developed cities in China (Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou) almost always require a personal interview. The schools can insist upon this as a prerequisite to employment because these three cities house the largest number of foreign teachers—which is to say, the best teaching positions are typically available only to those who are already living and working in one of these cities and can appear for an interview on demand.

Whether you have obtained the name of a prospective employer through a recruitment agency or by answering a direct advertisement from a school, there are several precautions you must take before committing to that position. All prospective teachers should consult the Foreign Teachers’ Guide to Living and Teaching in China before accepting any job offers. In addition, we’ve included a summary checklist of 25 questions you should ask the school as well as teachers currently employed by the institution before accepting any job offer.

Best of luck to you in your job search.

Gregory Mavrides, PhD

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