Originally published Sunday, December 28, 2008 in The China Post

Compiled by Trista di Genova, The China Post

Another huge hurdle here: teaching qualifications. Everything’s cool if you have a Bachelor’s degree from an English-speaking country, but if you don’t you’re kind of screwed here. One Scottish expat hasn’t finished his degree; his friends even bought him a fake one from Thailand, but he won’t use it, out of principle, and he knows if he gets caught he’d be deported — although according to recent estimates 30% of foreign teachers here have a fake one (how do they know that for sure, anyway?). So “Scott” is living in limbo, because he’s not supposed to teach, and he can’t get a job teaching, at least legally. His friend, a Taiwanese college instructor, advised him to try to get a teaching gig outside of Taipei, or take on private tutoring “one-on-one.”

Another middle-aged Canadian teacher was teaching in Taiwan on a faux degree for several years, when suddenly his work permit application was red-flagged because of his badly scanned “degree.” His school was notified by the Council of Labor Affairs for him to bring in supporting documents such as a transcript. Instead of doing that, he left the country for a few months, and now can only come back as a tourist. He makes a living through online editing.

The CLA is a bit cagey about this process, but they do sometimes contact the university in the applicant’s home country to confirm graduation dates. Most foreigners can find a job teaching in Taiwan, but current rules make it difficult for many people to do so.

“I could move to Korea or China and not have these problems; all you need is a high school diploma there,” said another Canadian expat who teaches here, “Donny.” He feels requiring a four-year university degree is an unreasonably high standard for teaching even little kids — and a foolhardy one.

“Qualified teachers are not coming here to teach, at least in the numbers that are needed. The best foreign teachers can hope for is to learn how to become teachers here. It’s like Taiwan is shooting itself in the foot before a marathon. They get a big fat ‘huhnhh?’ from me!” he said. “I love Taiwan and think they’re making a big mistake. Taiwan only looks at the one-shot deal, not the long-term repercussions. A majority of people living and teaching in Taiwan, a good percentage, haven’t graduated from a good university, but come, stay, and leave after 6 months because there are better opportunities back home (in Canada), where teachers have pensions. Teachers aren’t happy here with the benefits, the tenuous nature of their employment, so there’s no incentive to make this their home, and no passion for teaching.”

Donny’s frustrated because after 7 years of teaching in Taiwan, no problem, the rules changed with the new administration, so his four-year honors degree has been called into question as he renewed his ARC (Alien Resident Certificate). He finished the last year of his coursework online, and was told by the CLA that this degree is “unacceptable,” because they no longer accept “online degrees.”

“They should honor their original stipulation. There should be a grandfather clause to protect us if the rules change. People come here under an honest pretense, they’ve excelled and flourished, and make Taiwan a socially diverse environment. Why are they so tough on English teachers, when what they need is foreign teachers to be competitive? I have a resume that would go around Taipei 101, down to Kenting and back. What’s the next step? You have to have a Master’s degree in ancient Chinese culture to teach the ABC’s?”

What are the rules?

“Having a university degree, that’s the basic qualification here,” said one hotline representative. If you don’t have a four-degree is there anywhere you can legally teach? “It depends on the place where they want to hire you, if they accept the degree. It’s also on a case by case basis. Ask the CLA,” she said.

Have an issue? Expats can call the 24-hour, toll-free International Community Service Hotline (English spoken), at 0 800 024-111. Or call the Council of Labor Affairs: (02) 8590 2567. In southern Taiwan, call (07) 821 0171 Ext. 310. Rule changes should be posted in English on the NIA’s website: http://www.immigration.gov.tw

— Compiled by Trista di Genova, The China Post