'We are ecstatic': South African stranded teachers in China are coming home

Department of International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu
Department of International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu
Image: Trevor Samson

The Chinese government will foot the bill for a group of 51 South Africans to return home‚ after they unwittingly became embroiled in a probe into their visas.

"Good news is an understatement. We are ecstatic‚" Charl Venter‚ a parent of one of the children‚ told the publication on Friday.

"They will be flying back in groups of three from (Monday) at the full cost of the Chinese government‚" he said.

The group had been kept in China pending a court case against a Chinese agent who allegedly lured them to the foreign country with a promise of lucrative teaching jobs. He‚ however‚ allegedly did not disclose to the group the type of qualifications they needed and instead assisted them to get student visas - despite the fact that they were going to be working in China.

"Their written testimonies will be taken and the authorities have gone to the schools [where the group was to have been teaching] and corroborated their statements‚" said Venter.

He said their written statements would be sufficient and the group would not be needed to testify before a court.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation had on Thursday announced it was intervening and doing all it could to ensure the safe return of the young South Africans‚ some of whom have been in China since June 2017.

International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said Police Minister Bheki Cele and Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba had been roped in to assist.

Sisulu's office said the group had gone to China with the hope of being employed as English teachers.

"The promise was that they would get their work visas upon arrival in the country‚ which never materialised. While in China on study visas‚ they started working‚ which was in contravention of the immigration laws of the Republic of China‚" Sisulu's office said.

"We are very much aware that the Chinese authorities will follow their own legal process when such a violation occurs and deal with the matter accordingly."

The parents of the youngsters had started a crowdfunding appeal to raise donations for food‚ water‚ accommodation and travel costs for the stranded group.

Liza Bold‚ the mother of 21-year-old Lee-Ann who was among those in China‚ said she and the parents of the other job hopefuls found themselves in a predicament after what seemed like a big break for their unemployed youngsters turned into a nightmare.

Like many young South Africans‚ Lee-Ann‚ who is a qualified software developer‚ could not secure a job in her field so she decided to grab whatever promising opportunity came her way.

Bold said she‚ her daughter and a group of others went to a conference where an agent from China gave them a presentation‚ promising them jobs there.

But‚ according to Bold‚ the agent withheld important information like the fact that one cannot get a work visa for teaching English in China without a Bachelor of Arts degree.

The job hopefuls‚ mostly in their 20s‚ were not required to pay for anything and‚ therefore‚ concluded that the offer was legitimate.

“When they arrived the agent took their passports and promised he would arrange their work permits while they were placed at a university to learn arts and culture for two weeks‚” said Bold.

But in an unexpected turn of events‚ the group was subjected to a criminal investigation after the agent who recruited them got arrested. Officials probing the agent confiscated their passports.

It is believed the agent had been paid R40‚000 per recruit‚ while each of those recruited were expecting a salary of R16‚000 a month.

According to the Chinese embassy in South Africa‚ last year it and the consulate in South Africa issued over 1‚200 work visas to South African citizens‚ most of who intend to work as English teachers there.

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