For many, working abroad comes with generally positive feelings, despite frequent rights violations.

 “A person can be put in a very vulnerable position in going abroad where it is hard to quit and find a new job after relocating to the new country. Also, being unfamiliar with domestic laws and protections, I felt more vulnerable because I did not know what legal protections were available to me under domestic law”

–Survey respondent for “Getting Teacher Migration and Mobility Right

Although many teachers report overall positive feelings about their experience working abroad, the act of moving across borders for work does expose teachers to certain risks and vulnerabilities. Like other migrants, teachers who work abroad are likely to experience home sickness, culture shock and to struggle with communication barriers. Some teachers have reported more egregious violations of human, civil, and labor rights.  Teachers have been victims of discrimination and racism on the part of students, parents, other teachers, and employers. In addition, the relationship between immigration status and employment may leave migrants vulnerable to economic exploitation. The following cases are examples of serious problems migrant teachers have encountered abroad.  

Prejudice against expatriates in the Maldives has been of concern to the Indian High Commission, which has cited employer retention of passports and travel documents, intimidation, fraud, and discrimination as problems faced by Indian nationals. Concerns over treatment of expatriate teachers in the Maldives escalated further after an Indian physics teacher was attacked by a group of locals in May 2013. Angered by allegations that the teacher hit a student, a group of locals raided the school where the teacher worked and left him with injuries requiring his hospitalization. The teacher’s return to India for further treatment was then delayed due to the educational authority’s failure to process the necessary visa documents in a timely fashion. Tension persisted and in the weeks after the attack, nearly a dozen Indian teachers also working on the island where the incident occurred either resigned or requested transfers over concerns for their safety. 

Find out more

Kumubdhoo Islanders Bash Indian Teacher After Accusing Him of Hitting Student

Nazeer, Ahmed. Minivan News, May 15, 2013. 

Indian Teacher Attacked in Maldives Requires Visa Renewal Before Travelling Home for Treatment

Merrett, Neil. Minivan News, May 18, 2013. 

Indian Teachers Request Transfer, Quit Posts After Kumndhoo School Attack

Merrett, Neil. Minivan News, May 20 2013. 

Questions of freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial were raised when Dorje Gurung, a Nepali teacher working in Qatar, was fired from his job as a chemistry teacher and arrested on felony charges in the spring of 2013. The charges were the result of an incident in which Mr. Gurung, after withstanding persistent mockery and racist comments from students, implored the students to reflect on their actions. The authorities, however, interpreted Mr. Gurung’s response to the students as an insult to the Muslim religion. Without legal representation, Mr. Gurung faced up to seven years in prison; only an international outcry from supporters pressured Qatari authorities to release Mr. Gurung.

Find out more

Kaphle, Anup. “Qatar Jails a Nepali Teacher on Charges of Insulting Islam.” Washington Post, May 9, 2013. 

The 2008 suicides of two Filipina teachers, who were recruited to teach mathematics and science in Baltimore, USA are a tragic and extreme example of the how the culture-shock and stress of living and working in a foreign country can affect migrant teachers. Both teachers suffered from isolation from their families and communities and faced financial troubles trying to support relatives who remained in the Philippines. In addition, they faced the challenges of working in hard-to-staff schools where violence and student discipline were daily stresses. Sadly, these factors, combined with other personal struggles and lack of adequate support, eventually drove these two women to take their lives. 

Find out more

Neufeld, Sara. “Broken Hearts, Broken Dreams.” Baltimore Sun, February 24, 2008. 

These examples, although exceptional, highlight the dangerous situations teachers may be exposed to abroad, and serve as a reminder that unions must vigilantly strive to defend their rights at work as in other aspects of their lives as migrants.