Arrests and deportations of foreign teachers in China have soared this year, lawyers, schools and teachers have said, amid a broad crackdown defined by new police tactics and Beijing’s push for a “cleaner” education system.
Four law firms said that requests for representation involving foreign teachers had surged four to 10 times in the past six months, while teachers and schools confirmed that arrests and temporary detentions for minor crimes had become commonplace.
Switzerland-based Education First (EF) has seen a “significant” increase in detentions for alleged offenses, including drugs, fighting and cybersecurity breaches, according to a June 27 internal notice sent to employees.
EF staff had been “picked up by police at their home and work, as well as in bars and nightclubs, and have been questioned and brought in for drug testing,” it said.
An international school in Beijing and a teaching agency in Shanghai separately confirmed that arrests had risen sharply.
“There’s tremendous pressure for them to keep things clean. It’s all part of [Chinese President] Xi Jinping’s [習近平] idea to make sure that China can show a good face for the rest of the world,” said Peter Pang, principal attorney at the IPO Pang Xingpu Law Firm in Shanghai, which represents foreign teachers in disputes.
The Chinese Public Security Bureau and Ministry of Education did not respond to requests for comment.
Many of the legal cases involving foreign teachers are linked to new and enhanced drug-testing measures, including testing methods that can track drug use over a longer time, lawyers said.
Three former teachers from two schools in Beijing and Shanghai who were detained for 10 to 30 days before being deported this year said that authorities drug-tested teachers multiple times within weeks of arrival and conducted extensive interrogations.
One of the three, a 25-year-old Florida man who was deported in May after a 10-day detention in Beijing, said that he and a colleague underwent a urine screening on their first day in China, which came back clean, but were detained after a surprise workplace test two weeks later showed traces of cannabis in his hair.
“I didn’t touch a single drug in China,” the man said, declining to share his full name.
Hair tests can detect cannabis for up to 90 days, meaning that teachers from nations where the drug is legal are vulnerable.
“The problem with hair testing is that it can detect cannabis from months prior,” said Dan Harris, Seattle-based managing partner of law firm Harris Bricken.
In September last year, China launched a wide-reaching campaign to remove foreign influences from education, including efforts to ban foreign history courses, outlaw self-taught material and revise textbooks to focus on Chinese Communist Party ideology.
Rising anti-foreigner sentiment and a glut of teachers mean that expatriots are also more likely to be exposed to noncriminal issues, including schools docking pay, refusing to provide documentation for visas and changing contracts without warning, lawyers said.
“What has changed is that many government officials think that kicking out Western influences like English teachers is doing the party’s work, and the schools are taking advantage of it” Harris said. “The risks of going to China to teach far outweigh the rewards.”
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