In spite of the quarantine and the coronavirus, the Ukrainians in China end up behind the bars due to working illegally.
The Chinese authorities have strengthened controls over the illegals and those who help them get employed. They are threatened by harsh punishments – from multi-thousand fines and up to real prison terms.
In the recent years, Ukrainians left to work in China as the English teachers in the kindergartens and schools, as well as the models and dancers, for the sake of the 2,000-3,000 dollar salary.
It was mostly the [female] dancers who were evacuated in the infamous flight from Wuhan, the source of the coronavirus, to Novye Sanzhary.
But according to the data of the foreign employment agency representative Igor Slin’ko, around 80% of the “zarobitchane (work migrants)” in China work illegally, without the work visas.
Up to 15 people are held in a single cell and are fed with nothing but rice
26-year old graduate of the Dnepropetrovsk Argarian University Alexey Dubovik has already spent more than half a year in the prison of 8-million [people] Wenzhou on the southeast of China, 500 km south of Shanghai.
He is accused of the illegal employment of the Ukrainians in China.
“Two years ago Alexey arrived in China to teach English in a kindergarten. At first, like many, he was working illegally, on a tourist visa. Afterwards, he filed for a work visa, and then began to charge money to consult and help the others find work. Most of those whom he assisted with work in China had actually been working on the tourist visa,” – his uncle Ivan Cherevko said.
Before the borders were closed, his relatives travelled to China, but they weren’t allowed to meet with him. Due to the coronavirus epidemic the case is stalled, as the investigation is being delayed.
“They haven’t set out a concrete charge, there is only a suspicion. First Alexey was informed of the [authorities]’ suspicion, then was summoned for questioning, and he was left inside a prison afterwards. There are 15 people in one room there, and they are fed only with rice. The guy has defence lawyers, we thought this would be dealt with quickly, but there has still been no court session, and it’s unclear when it’ll finally occur,” Cherevko said.
According to him, Dubovik did not know that acting as middle man to assist job searches in China is illegal from the Chinese legislature’s point of view.
“He did not understand how serious that was. Advocates say that he can be threatened with up to seven years, as the laws are tough. We are hoping to do everything to push Alexey’s case forward, and so that he would be given the opportunity to defend himself,” Cherevko said.
Ukrainian embassy in PRC stated that the case is under their control.
Manhunts after the teachers and dancers
Such cases with the Ukrainians in China are not isolated.
“China , and the police manhunts have been more frequent during the recent times, they can easily stop people on the streets and demand their documents. While the majority continues to work illegally like before, getting a new work visa is problematic. Finding a spot as an English teacher in a kindergarten or a school is easy in China, you do not even need to have the ideal command of it, the most important thing is the European appearance, as it is considered very prestigious (while the Ukrainians are paid much less than the native carriers [of English].) After an online interview, pretty much everyone who can connect two English words together is hired. Same goes for the [female] dancers. It doesn’t really matter how well you dance, the most important thing – is that it is a “white person” and in a good [physical] form. The middlemen usually charge around 500-1,000 dollars, and usually these are the same former teachers and dancers, who have now turned to recruiting. However, because these are not work visas, this is illegal, and threatens a jail term under the Chinese laws,” said Elena Suytnik, a Ukrainian living in Guanzhou.
The Ukrainian embassy in China is also warning about the PRC authorities strengthening controls over the law enforcement related to foreigners’ employment.
“Due to this, the cases where foreigners, including the Ukrainian citizens, who violate the corresponding legal norms and were detained have become more frequent,” the embassy had informed us.
Nowhere to sit, nor to talk
Dubovik’s fellow Dnepropetrovsk residents, 20-year old Alina Ivanova and Anzhela Sedletskaya have also gotten in a tight spot, ending up behind the bars and being forced to pay a fine and return home.
By the way, this occurred in the same Wenzhou – as some say, the regulations and investigations there are some of the strictest.
The young women spent nearly 7 months in prison.
“In Wenzhou, we were arrested for working illegally as dancers. First we were held in prison for an administrative violation, and afterwards we were suspected of illegal border crossing and were placed into a jail with very severe conditions.
We were not allowed to communicate, there were 16 people per room, at times we were forbidden from standing up, speaking was only allowed for an hour a day and only on the street outside, it was forbidden to keep hands in pockets or to fold them across the chest. At night, there were patrols taking 2.5 hours – you were supposed to stand in place and not move for all that time.
The only food is rice, the rest must be bought. Then, there was a trial, which sentenced us to half a year in prison and a fine of 2 thousand yuan (around 300 dollars), and then we were deported”, Ivanova says about the imprisonment in Wenzhou.
The same story happened to a 23-year old Odessite [resident of the city of Odessa] Albina Mirzekhanova, who had also worked as a dancer at a Wenzhou nightclub. She had filed the documents through a local middleman firm.
One day, the police burst into a flat she shared with seven other young women, and arrested them all for a visa law violation. It turned out that they did not have a work visa but a business visa, which does not act as a work permit.
Mirzekhanova had also complained about the horrific prison conditions – she was not allowed outside from the small room and were fed with nothing but rice.
Eventually, the young women had also paid a fine and returned to Ukraine.
Another Ukrainian, who worked as a teacher in China and wished to preserve her anonymity, told us about the “hellish conditions” in prison, where she ended up for illegal work and was eventually deported from.
“I worked in a kindergarten as an English teacher, like many of our people. Obviously, not under the work visa. The agent promised me full safety in terms of police investigations, said that they have ensured everything and paid off everyone. I worked for around 4 months. And then, the police had shown up in the kindergarten. They checked my passport and drove me to a police department with two more of my colleagues from Ukraine and Russia.
We spent about 15 hours in the police department, after which we received a sentence: 5 days in prison for administrative violations, and a 5 thousand fine. It was basically hell. Every day, three times a day you get mantou buns with boiled vegetables (aububergines, cucumbers, or cabbage), everything very grey and very spicy. All of this was shaken out through the bars into a bucket, as if we were pigs. We were each given a plastic plate and a plastic spoon. Drinking water only got turned on twice a day, and it was boiling hot. Shower and a toilet are in a transparent cubicle, while under a camera observation. The cell was designed for 8 people, but 12 of us were there. We slept on old, dirty blankets. Once a day, there is a walking exercise, with everyone marching around the yard in a line.
The room mainly had Philippinas in it, and a couple of Chinese women. In the evenings, a TV was turned on, and during that time you cannot sit on the bed, but must sit on a small plastic chair, all arranged in two rows. You can only lie down during the allocated sleep time.
If you did lie down, the observers commented on this through the intercom. During the sleep [time], two people spent two hours observing – everyone sleeps – two people stand and watch, and then wake up two others two hours later. Sitting or laying down during that time is prohibited. Taking a shower is only during the allocated time. Calling your relatives or meeting them is prohibited.”
Waiting for new wave of arriving
The lawyers confirm that the illegal foreigners in China are getting caught and punished more often, with the trend beginning even before the coronavirus epidemic.
According to the defence lawyer Dan Harris, 4-5 people a day had contacted his international law firm in 2019 due to fines, imprisonments and deportations, whereas earlier such requests were at around 2-3 times a month. And even back in 2017-2018 the danger of imprisonment and deportation wasn’t that high.
According to Harris’ data, the foreigners’ visas are getting checked by the police, and the foreigners are now getting turned in by the Chinese, who are being paid for such vigilance. The school itself can report its teacher to the police, so that he would get deported and they wouldn’t have to pay him.
“The workers with tourist or business visa are more profitable to the Chinese [employers], as they save up on taxes this way, while the foreigner does not even know that this is illegal. It is only when he gets caught that the fine and the deportation expenses will fall onto the unfortunate teacher’s shoulders. He will have to pay up a fine around 10,000 yuan (1,500 dollars),” Harris wrote.
Meanwhile, the experts predict a new wave of arriving in China.
“Due to the epidemic, the foreigners are not currently being let into China, but as soon the borders get opened, people will travel to work once again, but it’s unclear when the teachers and dancers will start get recruited again”, Slin’ko said.