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When Chychyna Dina was forced to decide between a firm job offer in her native Belarus and studying economics in Beijing, she opted for the latter, convinced it would open more doors for her in the future.
“For me, Beijing simply promised more opportunities,” said the 26-year-old, who arrived at the University of International Business and Economics in 2010.
Foreign students walk at the Shanghai University campus. Many international students who want to find a job in China after graduation resort to service agencies that help them get around government policies. Shi Peiqi / for China Daily
Two years on, however, the new graduate said she now has only one option: Pack up and leave China.
Like many overseas students, Dina is unable to meet the requirement that foreigners must provide evidence of having at least two years of work experience before they can be employed in China, a rule in place since 1996.
“I don’t have that (experience), and without it I’m left in a position where I can either buy myself a return ticket to Belarus or become one of those foreigners who works in China illegally,” she said.
Dina’s is a common problem that education experts say is leading to many people turning to agencies that promise to help them evade the strict regulations.
According to information gathered by China Daily, consultation companies in Beijing and Shanghai are charging 1,500 yuan ($236) to 20,000 yuan to foreigners who cannot meet the work-visa requirements to help them obtain one.
Prices are based on the client’s nationality, age and educational background.
“Many foreigners have received work permits and visas through our connections with the local government,” said a female agent at Xiangrui Business Consulting in Shanghai’s Pudong district, when contacted by a China Daily reporter posing as a Japanese student. “Even if you’ve never worked before, there’s no need to worry, since our boss used to work with the government and has connections.”
An agent at Zhuolu Commerce Co in Beijing’s Dongcheng district also claimed he could help foreigners who did not have evidence of their work experience, which is usually provided by a former employer.
“There’s basically no risk. We’ve been doing it for years,” he assured a reporter in a conversation over the QQ instant-messaging tool. “We don’t fake any documents. We simply skip the process entirely.”
Both agencies ask potential clients to provide personal details and information about their prospective employers before agreeing to help.
“We don’t take foreigners with a criminal record or those without a bachelor’s degree, as it’s hard to get them a work permit and could bring us trouble,” said the agent in Shanghai. “Once your case is accepted by our agency, getting you a work visa and permit is a piece of cake.”
It is easier for people offered positions in finance or trade, she said, especially citizens of the United States, Japan and European countries, compared with those of India or the Philippines.
The Beijing agent said his company does not accept clients from Africa or the Middle East, but did not give a reason.
According to the agents’ estimates, the fee for China Daily’s “Japanese student” was 3,000 yuan in Shanghai and up to 8,500 yuan in Beijing, depending on circumstances. The price included official paperwork translation, the government charges and the agency service fee.
Because of the limitations of her company’s connections, the Xiangrui Business Consulting agent said she can accept only clients planning to work in Shanghai. She declined to reveal which government department her company cooperates with.
However, she did say that her agency receives about 60 clients a month and that almost all successfully apply for work visas. “There are many agencies like ours in Shanghai. The market is pretty tight,” she added.
A spokesperson for Shanghai Foreign Worker Careers Center, which falls under the city’s human resources and social security bureau and issues work visas, could not be reached for comment.
However, the management office of work permits under the city’s exit-and-entry administration said it had received a complaint about a foreign teacher using forged certificates. The office said it had sent the case to the human resources and social security bureau.
In Beijing, the human resources and social security authority said no such case has been reported, while the capital’s exit-and-entry administration could not be reached for comment.
When China Daily contacted Xiangrui Business Consulting again, this time in an official capacity, a different agent answered and confirmed that the agency offers the service. However, she said it was “not convenient” to talk about it more and hung up.
An agent at Zhuolu Commerce Co, meanwhile, denied his company offers such a service and said he did not have a colleague going by the name of the one China Daily talked to previously.
Student numbers climb
China has attracted an increasing number of international students since its reform and opening-up, thanks to its rapidly developing education system and ancient culture, Chen Yinghui, director of international cooperation and exchanges for the Ministry of Education, said in March.
The country received just 33 students from five countries in Eastern Europe in 1950. By last year, that number had soared to 292,611 from various nations, she said.
“In 1950, international students could be enrolled only in Tsinghua University, whereas students now are free to choose from 660 universities nationwide,” she said.
Besides, the areas of study are no longer confined within language and linguistics, but now include agriculture, medicine, economics and arts, Chen added.
At the University of International Business and Economics, the number of overseas students is now almost triple the 1,000 or so they received in 2005, and is expected to hit 3,200 by the end of 2015.
Although more of the students are staying in the country after graduation, mostly in positions related to finance and economics, the number who get work visas still accounts for a small percentage of those coming for school, as very few of them have two years of work experience, said Li Yong, director of the college’s career center for overseas students.
“Most of our students still go back to their own country after graduation,” he said. “It’s a loss of talents.”
He said he is not sure if any of the international students without two years of working experience has turned to illegal agencies for help but said that might be the last resort for them.
“It makes sense that Chinese students are given priority in employment,” Li added. “But it’s a little bit unfair for the international students, who are familiar with the culture and business of both China and his motherland after years of study and might bring more advantages to the firms he worked with.
“The temporary work-visa policy for foreigners is probably a bit too exclusive, which means it either shuts the door on many talents with international perspectives, or will breed illegal agencies,” he warned.
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