Foreigners who teach English have been arrested in China and deported at an alarming rate in the past few months, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
The arrests have generally been for things as ambiguous as “cybersecurity violations” and use of marijuana prior to arrival in China, the report said.
The teachers have said they did not use marijuana while in China, but Chinese authorities have begun using hair tests that detect use up to 90 days beforehand, which teachers say was while they were in their own countries where marijuana is legal.
China has increasingly become a risky place for foreign individuals and companies. International brands such as Versace, Coach and Givenchy have all been criticized in Chinese news reports and on social media for listing Hong Kong separately from China on their Web sites, and all three have apologized.
China has been in a nationalistic fervor since Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in March last year eliminated presidential term limits, and the protests in Hong Kong — which China sees as a challenge to its sovereignty — have exacerbated this.
Companies have long been submitting to China’s whimsical demands for access to its market, but its size is often exaggerated, particularly as the average per capita spending power in China is the lowest in East Asia and well below the level required to buy luxury brands. China was also an attractive place for foreigners to teach English due to its low cost of living. This is no longer the case and foreign teachers in China are increasingly faced with high rent and food costs, an over-saturated market and discriminatory practices by employers. Schools have been keeping teachers’ passports and making ambiguous deductions from their salaries — practices they can get away with, because the supply of teachers outweighs demand, Reuters said.
Then-premier William Lai (賴清德) last year said that concrete goals would be set this year for making English an official language. Minister of Education Pan Wen-chung (潘文忠) also spoke last year about the importance of English-language competence, which he said “lays a foundation on which people can collect accurate information in a timely way, showcase professional expertise or express ideas without language barriers in the international arena, giving them a competitive edge.”
The government should seek to promote Taiwan as an ideal destination for aspiring English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers. A number of motivations drive such people to work abroad: a desire to gain work experience, a desire to experience a foreign culture, an opportunity to work during a transition period, or a chance to learn a foreign language. Taiwan can provide these things, while also benefiting from an influx of English teachers. The government could work with EFL certification providers and promote Taiwan as a safe alternative to China where Mandarin is also spoken.
One of the barriers for many are Taiwan’s strict visa rules. Those on work visas are too busy to study and those on study visas are not allowed to work. The government could consider establishing a flexible visa that allows concurrent part-time work and study. Another option could be giving scholarships to certified teachers for Mandarin study programs, while requiring them to teach English for part of the week.
As China continues to isolate itself and becomes increasingly hostile toward foreign companies and individuals, Taiwan can promote itself as a friendly nation where the rule of law, rather than misplaced nationalism, dictates policy. The more foreigners who become familiar with Taiwan, the more global exposure the nation will have, and the more the world will become familiar with its plight in the face of Chinese hegemony.
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