Dirco planning visa awareness drive after SA teacher detentions in China

2019-03-07 05:50
Sasha Redman (Supplied)

Sasha Redman (Supplied)

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The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) is planning a massive awareness drive around visa requirements for teaching English in China as South African Sasha Redman goes into her second month in detention over an alleged immigration violation. 

"If you're going to teach in China, you need a work visa," cautioned Dirco spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya.

He said a study or tourist visa would not do, and would probably result in detention like it did for the more than 50 South Africans released from Chinese jails in 2018 for the same offence.

The department said the arrests have made an information campaign necessary because once a South African is detained over an alleged immigration violation, they could be in for a long wait. 

Mabaya said people jump at an opportunity for work and a chance to earn dollars, but many are duped by unscrupulous agencies and schools into leaving South Africa with the wrong visa, and a promise that it will be "sorted out" in China.

READ: 'It's one big nightmare' says mom of another SA teacher detained in China

He said the biggest error is to believe that a student visa also allows a person to work, or that a student visa can be changed into a work visa once in China.

"We have got people in China detained for six months," he said.

Currently, Redman is one of 14 South Africans detained there for the same reasons, he added.

38 days of detention and counting

Redman was detained earlier this year. Her carer, Candice Erasmus, told News24 that she had completed one teaching stint already, and it had been hassle-free.

This time she was offered an exciting opportunity to study Mandarin at a university in China, with the agreement that she would teach in her spare time.

However, not long after her arrival she was told that her studies were taking up too much time, and she should focus on teaching. 

Redman became suspicious when the school occasionally told her to hide away in a room, and Erasmus advised her to pack up immediately and return home. 

However, before she could leave, she was detained by Chinese authorities. 

"It is 38 days now," said Erasmus.

Erasmus said she had established through contacts in China that the school Redman was teaching at was being investigated for fraud, and that Redman might be a witness in a criminal investigation.

She has also expressed frustration over not being able to get more information on Redman's well-being and felt Dirco was not doing enough to help. 

Limited powers

Mabaya said the South African consulate general in Shanghai was rendering consular assistance and monitoring the detention of Redman within the limitations put in place by the Chinese authorities for detainees that are still under investigation.

He explained that the government of South Africa had limited powers when it comes to the detention of South African nationals in foreign countries. 

"South Africa cannot interfere in legal processes of another sovereign country and cannot arrange for the early release of SA citizens from detention."

The official position from the Chinese side is that someone in her position will be held for a minimum period of 30 days as from the date of arrest on charges of illegal employment while an investigation is being carried out. 

"This can include investigations into the school that employed the person. The SA consulate general in Shanghai can only request further information and the review of the continued detention after this initial 30-day period has lapsed. The Chinese are currently acting within the local laws of China. An extension of the detention period cannot be excluded," he said.

Mabaya told News24 that South Africa does ask for leniency in these cases and tries to get to the court appearances.

But, access to detainees is sometimes difficult because they could be held a long distance away from the South African representatives.

He said that unlike in South Africa, court dates are unpredictable, and the representative might not make it across China in time, or they find that the accused had already appeared a week earlier than expected.  

Cold comfort

In South Africa, the law stipulates that an accused must appear in court within 48 hours of arrest, and a future court date is provided at each appearance for planning purposes.

He said that some people are released after two days with a fine, but it is not unusual to be detained for 90 days while an alleged immigration violation is investigated. 

Mabaya explained that the Chinese authorities monitor visa issues closely at English teaching schools as people from all over the world flock there in the hopes of earning money, but with the incorrect visa. 

He said not only are visas to China very clearly defined between work and study, but they also may limit an employee to a certain province. 

Some teachers unwittingly violate their visa conditions by moving to another province to be closer to friends or for a better salary.

He said that eventually, the court may order that the school that hired the teacher buy the plane tickets for the deportation trip back to South Africa, or it may order that the family of the accused buys the plane ticket.  

But this is cold comfort for Redman's anxious carer, Erasmus.

"It's a longer wait, and a longer period of not being able to speak to her," said Erasmus.

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