A set of measures will be further strengthened to better manage foreign experts in China, according to the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs.
"Of the 540,000 foreign experts coming to China every year, the vast majority are high-quality talents with outstanding work records," Xia Bing, director of the administration's cultural and educational experts department, said in an exclusive interview with China Daily.
He said foreign experts of many different occupations have made an irreplaceable contribution to the country's decades of rapid economic growth and technological development.
"About a third are working in cultural and educational areas," Xia said. "It is my understanding that some who work as language teachers have donated their own funds to help poor students in remote areas in China, and some outstanding foreign teachers have even won the Chinese Government Friendship Award."
Xia said the administration is also dedicated to perfecting the process of recruiting foreign talents, such as making it more convenient for foreigners to enter and leave the country, bringing them into the social security insurance system, and providing more channels for them to make their voice heard and thus better blend in with society.
As for recent reports of foreigners with criminal backgrounds found working in China, Xia said they are just "black sheep".
"The overwhelming majority of foreign experts are outstanding," he said, adding that the administration will further strengthen its management to prevent such cases in the future.
"We will also ask foreigners to sign a declaration that they do not have a criminal record, with a promise to strictly obey laws in China, before issuing them the work permit required for a working visa."
Xia said the administration will also require educational institutions and intermediary agencies that are qualified to hire foreigners to set up special posts to verify the applicants' curriculum vitae, making full use of the Internet and information provided by child protection organizations in the applicants' countries of origin.
A week's worth of pre-job training for foreign teachers should also be enforced, including an introduction to laws in China, how to respond to emergencies and protect their rights, as well as characteristics of Chinese students, he said.
"On top of punishment, if any malpractice or illegal behavior is found, the provincial-level foreign experts affairs administrations should report the case quickly to the public security, education or other related departments," he said.
In line with the reform and opening-up policy and the macro-administration of importing overseas talents to China, the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs issued a notice about implementing foreign expert certificates in 1994.
According to the regulation, foreigners need to find an employer that is qualified to hire foreigners in China before obtaining a work permit and a working visa.
After entering the country, they need to obtain foreign expert certificates, which must be renewed annually or when their employer changes.
The first requirement for obtaining the foreign expert certificate listed on the administration's website is "being healthy with a clear criminal record".
Other mandatory materials are health check results, copies of their contract for employment with the Chinese employer, and copies of the health insurance their employer has bought for them. They may then apply for the residence permits from public security departments.
A special criterion has been set for working as a language teacher in China: A bachelor's degree plus two years' work experience.
"For popular destinations such as Shanghai, applicants may need a master's degree," said Xiong Deyi, an official at the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs. "But in many places in Northwest China, which are also hungry for foreign teachers, the threshold may be lowered."
Wang Xuming, former spokesman for the Ministry of Education, expressed his worries about the process of introducing foreign teachers.
"Of course, criminal records and other certificates have to be checked and traced," he said.
But Xia said governments around the world usually do not ask foreigners to provide official statements of unblemished criminal records unless they are applying for green cards.
"It does not mean we can only count on their self-statement for a background check," he said. "I know some international schools in Beijing have made these official certificates a mandatory condition of employment. I think this is good."
However, not many schools can make such a determination in an employee's market, especially the public schools that cannot compete with private or international schools in terms of wages.
Hao Youming, principal of the Beijing Chaoyang Foreign Language School, said neither the school nor the education bureau have channels to obtain foreign teachers' official criminal records.
"The best I can do, other than carefully checking their resume, is to ask for teaching permits," she said.
There has long existed a strict process to recruit foreign experts for Chinese institutions and companies.
Despite the management system and efforts by institutions to screen foreign applicants as thoroughly as possible, Xia said it may still be very hard to completely eliminate the "black sheep" due to problems such as the imbalance between market supply and demand, the lack of related laws and mercenary intermediate agencies that do not follow regulations when it comes to recruiting foreigners.
China has seen a growing wave of enthusiasm to learn English in the past 20 years.
According to Xia, the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs issues about 30,000 foreign expert certificates in the field of cultural and educational areas nationwide every year, but the annual market demand is for more than 100,000.
"The function of English is being magnified in China," said Wang, the former Education Ministry spokesman.
Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, agreed and added that Chinese people have an irrational favor of foreigners as English teachers.
"Foreign teachers are the best advertisement that many English training schools use to attract students," Xiong said.
Lee Clarke, from Canada, works as a foreign teacher in a university in Changchun, capital of Jilin province, and part-time as the director of a private English training school. One of his missions is to recruit foreign teachers for the private school.
"Their only requirement is good-looking young people, especially those who are white-skinned," said the 60-year-old, who has been teaching in China for eight years.
"Some of these young people just come for sightseeing. They are hired just because they can speak English, and they have foreign faces," he added.
Xia said the preference for foreign faces makes it very difficult for many ethnic Asians who are also native speakers to find a job as an English teacher.
Some intermediate agencies have seen a business opportunity, and look to capitalize on the demand by sending foreigners who do not have any teaching qualifications to schools that need foreign teachers.
In response, Xiong Deyi said his department is not authorized to supervise intermediate agencies.
"The administration has no jurisdiction, and we are not vested by law to crack down on intermediate agencies even if we know they are not following regulations," he said.