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Foreign Teachers in South Africa - the Situation in January 2014

Posted: 11-01-2013

At present Placements in Education only accepts applications from people who are South African Citizens or Permanent Residents of South Africa, and who obtained their teaching qualifications in South Africa. We regret having to take this decision, and the purpose of this article is to outline why we have adopted this policy.

The Department of Basic Education in South Africa has taken a decision not to employ foreign teachers – even those who have work permits - in their schools. This means that no matter what Province you are in, foreign teachers can not be employed in State Schools. Their justification of this decision is to say that there are South African teachers who are currently unemployed (which is true) and that they believe that they should employ South African citizens first. The better-established Independent schools have followed suit, for the same reasons, and will not employ foreign teachers unless they are unable to find a South African teacher for the post. When they do employ a foreign teacher it is invariably someone who has significant teaching experience in a good South African State School, rather than someone who has been teaching in an inner city school, or someone who has recently come to South Africa.  In cities, at present, it is very difficult for foreign teachers to find jobs.  

While some people have told me that they find this policy very unfair, we know that South African teachers with long service in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada, have had a similar experience there. When their visa or work permit expired it was not renewed, and they were forced to return to South Africa and seek work. I have spoken to heads of schools overseas who have told me that they did everything they knew to keep their South African teachers, but because there were citizens unemployed they could not get visas for South African teachers. So what the South African government is doing is not unique, all over the world non-citizens are finding it difficult to get work in foreign countries, and as a result they are returning to their country of origin, and usually taking a huge drop in salary when they arrive home.

The majority of Placements in Education's clients will no longer employ foreign teachers. As a result we have taken the decision that to accept applications from people who are not South African citizens is to give foreign applicants false hope. It is highly unlikely that we can find a job for foreign teachers at present.

Is it possible for foreign teachers to find work in South Africa? After all, the Department of Home Affairs’ Quota Work Permits to teach are still valid! The answer is yes, it is possible, but of course there are some uncomfortable realities within this answer

  1. If a person does not have a Quota Work Permit to teach no school should employ them to teach. If the Department of Home Affairs should choose to inspect that school and finds people employed without a Quota Work Permit they have the right to fine the school and deport the foreign teachers.  To employ people as teachers who do not have a Quota Work Permit to teach puts both the school and the teacher at risk.

  2. In rural areas, particularly in Limpopo and KZN, foreign teachers can be appointed to State teaching posts, but only after the school has made every effort to find a South African teacher for the job. In these cases, the foreign teacher is generally offered a contract for a single school term. Should a South African teacher be found the foreign teacher's contract will not be renewed at the end of the term. We have heard reports of foreign teachers being driven out of their post by local communities because a South African citizen wanted their job. So although a foreign teacher may get an appointment in this way, they need to know that there are no guarantees that they will be able to stay in the school for any length of time.

  3. Inner City Schools in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban do employ foreign teachers. But often at very low salaries - we have been told that some teachers in these schools are paid R4000 to R5000 per month. The school knows they will stay - because most schools cannot appoint foreign teachers.

Foreign teachers who have a job in a School in South Africa should hold onto it with both hands. Because if they should lose it, for any reason, they will not find it easy to get another teaching job.  South African employer must implement LIFO – this means Last In First Out.  If a foreign teacher takes a job in a South African school, and the numbers of learners fall (or the State fails to pay the subsidy, or the parents fail to pay their fees – it can be any one of a whole bag-full of reasons) the school will be short of money. To stay afloat they must retrench a member of staff, then the last member of staff employed will be retrenched. Newly appointed staff will be the first to go – so long service in a school is to be valued!  Even if the salary is low – it is a salary.

Added to this is a very negative attitude from the South African Department of Home Affairs, who are now very reluctant to grant Residents Permits to citizens of other African Nations.  A friend of mine from Zimbabwe was told that “By 2017 all Zimbabweans will have returned home!  We will not extend your Work Permit beyond that date.”  Whether this is official policy or just an official having a bad hair day we cannot tell – but it is not the first time we have heard a comment such as this.  We are aware that there is a Draft of Legislation being circulated at present which will make Work Permits and Residence Permits far more difficult to obtain, if and when it is signed into law.

This situation is likely to continue, because it is highly unlikely that the Department of Education or Independent Schools will change their current employment policies, and the Department of Home Affairs is not sympathetic to foreign teachers. Placements in Education does not foresee a decline in the number of qualified South African teachers, indeed in the current economic climate we believe that a greater proportion of University Graduates are likely to do their PGCE and become teachers than has been the case in the past ten years. Foreign teachers who stay in South Africa will most likely find it more and more difficult to get jobs.

We therefore recommend that foreign teachers seriously consider returning home. Firstly because it is already difficult for foreign teachers to find jobs in South Africa, secondly because we believe that it could become more difficult, and thirdly because your home nation needs you! No nation on earth can afford to spend precious time and resources training teachers only to have them leave, taking their experience and their training to a foreign country. Africa is rising, she is developing as never before, and the cornerstone of economic development is education. Every nation in Africa needs teachers, preferably teachers who are citizens and really believe in their own country. Teachers who have lived and worked in South Africa have learned a lot - both good and bad. Children in their home country can benefit from the teachers' experience. We urge foreign teachers to consider returning to their home country.

Finally, we agree that the current situation is unfair. With the wisdom of hindsight, we believe that the South African Government was not wise to give five year Quota Work Permits to Teach, one year would have been sufficient. But at the time the first Quota Work Permits were issued (2006-7) no one foresaw the international financial crash of 2008.  The current international financial crisis has affected teachers all over the world, and South Africa cannot escape it's consequences. We believe that every African nation needs teachers right now to prepare our kids for the future ... to do our best to make sure that what happened in 2008 doesn't happen again.

In Summary:

  • Schools in South Africa currently only employ foreign teachers as a last resort – or if they wish to pay very low salaries, which a South African teacher would not accept
  • Where teachers are employed in South African schools they are usually given a very short contract with no commitment by the employer to renew the contract.
  • Placements in Education does not take CVs from foreign teachers as we believe that to do so is to offer them false hope
  • We understand that Quota Work Permits for teachers will not be renewed by Home Affairs unless the teacher can show that they are employed as a teacher, and even then they may find that the renewal is very difficult to obtain
  • We do not foresee that this situation will change in the next five years, and urge foreign teachers to consider returning to their country of origin
  • We entirely agree that the situation is unfair on foreign teachers, and that teachers’ salaries in African nations are uneconomically low.  But the only people who can change that in any nation are the Citizens!  Again – we urge you to be a force for change by returning home.


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