Below and after the jump, reactions from readers in and around China to some reports (here, here, and here) about foreigners who can't get teaching visas to China renewed, and therefore must leave the country, because they have reached age 60. To boil down the themes that recur in messages I've received:
1) Circumstances naturally vary place to place and institution to institution. Some people say they're having no trouble staying on, at whatever age; others, that a crackdown really does seem to be under way.
2) Lots of other countries have mandatory retirement ages of 55, 60, 62, etc; and if visas there are tied to jobs, foreigners sometimes have to leave.
3) Historically Chinese institutions have used age brackets, or other "categorical" exclusions, as an excuse to move out people they wanted to expel for other reasons.
4) What seems to be an age-related crackdown might actually be aimed at people who have been in China for a long time -- a related but different objective.
Details and testimony below. What this all amounts to I can't be sure, but FWIW many people have reported hearing of a new emphasis on enforcing the letter of often-ignored laws about visas.
-- About the bottom-line practicality of many institutions, a reader in Vietnam writes:
"We taught for three and half years on a series of extended student visas in China."We were also paid in cash once a month."There is always a work around in the PRC if there is sufficient guanxi." ["Connections" -- for more, see here.]
-- More on exceptions and practical reasons for the policy; a reader in China writes:
"I am not an English teacher in China, though I have lived here for 11 years and have known several. As everything else goes here, there are exceptions to the sixty rule. I know a man who is 65+ and teaching in Shandong. He has been in China for longer than I have been here, and I assume that he will be here a lot longer too. I cannot imagine that he is the only one.
"My understanding is that much of this depends (surprise! surprise!) on who know, how well you know them, and how much your university is willing to fight for you to stay. Also, being good at your job and being high profile is not necessarily the best thing to be if you want to continue on past sixty. That sort of 'success' draws attention....
"China is not the only country that has age limits on foreigner visitors on extended working visas. Singapore also has a 60-year-old cutoff for teachers, as do many countries throughout the world. I would assume that the rationale has to do with the perception that those over sixty are potential medical liabilities that the host country does not want to deal with. In my locale [major first tier city along China's east coast] I am aware of a couple who have been here for many years and who are bumping perilously up against the limit. They had their company extend their contract to cover them until they are sixty-two, which is when they can draw on their retirement benefits in their home country. I have been assured by their boss that they have been grandfathered in, and that staying beyond the sixty barrier should not be a problem. Will it work? We'll find out come August 2010, but my feeling is that it will...."
-- About other signs of crackdown, an English teacher in Hong Kong writes:
"I met an English acquaintance a couple of months ago here in HK. He lives in Fuxin in Liaoning up in the north. He's married to a Chinese lady and has been teaching there for a 3 or 4 years I think. He's almost 60 and has run into the same issue, of not being able to teach there when he turns 60. I was a bit surprised since his wife is a native of the city. And I would have thought he has the proper visas, etc." More on this theme at China Law Blog, here.
-- About "categorical" bans as a convenient excuse, a reader with experience in China writes:
"From my experience, I suspect that part of the problem with the banning of older teachers may have to do with cases of sexual misconduct on the part of the older American teachers. We have found a small percentage of older men go with the purpose of finding young, small, cute, Chinese girls. You'd think it would be younger men being the problem, but the opposite has been true.
"The Chinese way would be to ban the age group as opposed to making a "scene" over a few foreign sexual predators."
Let me specifically emphasize that this is not the case whatsoever as it involves the people who originally raised the issue, a married couple with whom I have corresponded for a long time. I mention this theory only became it came up as a matter of past practice in so many messages.