In total, 64% of the teachers who took part in the survey “Getting Teacher Migration and Mobility Right” used an agency to secure a position abroad. Importantly, 80% of respondents indicate that they would recommend the agency they used, and only 20% are “unsure” or definitely would not recommend the agency. 170 total teachers report mixed or negative impression of their recruiter. Notably, in open-ended responses these teachers raised grave concerns regarding harassment, lack of transparency, excessive fees, fraud, legal violations, and even human trafficking. Moreover, teachers reporting negative recruitment experiences are much more likely to come from low income countries, representing 57% of those with mixed or negative reactions of a recruiter, but just 36% of overall respondents.

Nearly a quarter of respondents paid a placement fee to secure a teaching job abroad; roughly the same percentage indicated a need to take out loans to cover the fees incurred in the recruitment process.  Overall, 693 respondents provided specific information regarding upfront fees they had to pay, including medical, travel, visa, and testing fees, in addition to recruitment fees. 80% of teachers who report paying fees incurred upfront costs less than U.S.$5,000. 20% of respondents report fees in excess of $5,000, with the majority of those falling somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000, or levels that can lead to debt bondage.

Of the teachers who used a recruiter, 80% were required to sign a recruitment contract. More than 80% of those with recruitment contracts indicate that the terms of the arrangement were clear to them and they feel that their contracts were fair. However, nearly half (47%) risked monetary penalties for terminating a contract early.

Almost one in five (18%) of survey respondents report that their recruitment contract was unfair. Of these, more than half are from low-income countries, and fully 47% are from the Philippines. Teachers from lower-middle income countries are over-represented among those who perceived their contract as unfair, and teachers from upper-middle income and high-income countries are underrepresented.


Because the terms of recruitment are so important, a careful review of the recruitment contract is one of the most essential steps in the recruitment process. However, teachers are often given little or no time to review the terms of their contract, and even when time is provided, they generally lack a detailed understand of the legal framework of the country to which they are being recruited. This creates a moment of high vulnerability: once a contract is signed it often carries binding commitments and restrictions.

Empowering teachers to conduct thoughtful and informed assessments of their contracts is a huge challenge to those working to ensure that their rights are protected. A bookmark prepared by the Alliance for Ethical International Recruitment provides some simple and clear guidance:

  • Have a lawyer review the proposed agreement
  • Do not permit changes without your consent
  • Include a time limit in your contract or details about what happens if no visas are available
  • Do not provide collateral
  • Do not allow anyone to withhold your legal documents
  • Be sure the contract includes a clear agreement about the jobs and locations acceptable to you before signing. 

Labour and immigration attorneys around the world highlight the importance of careful contract review. It is not unusual to see recruitment contract language that: 

  • Lacks specificity regarding the job location, the prospective employer, and the services that will be provided by the recruitment agency;
  • Fails to list all of the costs that will be charged by the recruiter;
  • Disclaims the truth or accuracy of the information provided in the contract;
  • Waives the teacher’s right to bring legal action against the recruiter, even if the recruiter breaches the contract;
  • Includes “breach fees” to be paid to the recruiter if the teacher leaves the position with the employer; and
  • Requires a teacher to maintain confidentiality about the recruitment agency, fees paid and contract terms.

These types of contract clauses are often illegal or unenforceable, but without proper counsel or better alternatives, teachers may nonetheless be compelled to sign.


Bartlett, Lora. Migrant Teachers: How American Schools Import Labor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014.


Recruitment agencies profit most directly from the international movement of teachers, and still operate largely free from regulation. The presence of intermediaries increases professionals’ risk of exploitation. 

International recruitment, prevalent in global teacher migration, mainly happens in three ways 

  • Direct hire by an employer
  • Job placement by a third party private intermediary
  • The staffing or supply agency model, where the recruiter also serves as employer and leases the worker out to temporary postings at job sites.  

Research indicates a declining role for direct employer recruitment and growing roles for private agents (Martin, 2005). This trend increases worker vulnerability to manipulation.

Recruiters’ roles are significant. The EI global survey, “Getting Teacher Migration and Mobility Right” found that:

  • 32% of teachers were interviewed by a recruiter
  • 35% of teachers said a recruiter helped secure their housing and travel arrangements
  • 57% said a recruiter provided an orientation 
  • 31% said their recruiter offered professional development
  • 20% indicated that a recruiter was responsible for evaluating their job performance

For teachers fortunate enough to be working with an ethical recruiter, this level of involvement in all aspects of the teaching experience abroad could be quite helpful. However, more exploitative agencies can use each level of interaction to exert or maintain control, and to extract fees. Without effective regulation, internationally recruited workers often face serious abuses, including fraud, discrimination, economic coercion, retaliation, debt bondage, and even human trafficking. Teachers have not been spared from these forms of exploitation.

The presence of private agents in the recruitment process introduces profit as a motivator in international teacher placement and creates a corresponding incentive for volume—the more placements, the more profit. Problematically, research also shows a trend for recruitment costs to be shifted from employers to workers (Martin, 2005). Push factors are so strong for some teachers that they are willing to take out loans and risk exorbitant debts in order to secure a post abroad, particularly when the advertised post promises significantly higher wages than the worker can earn at home. As with most aspects of teacher migration and mobility, effective regulation will require cross-border coordination. By their nature, recruitment abuses begin in the country of origin, where fees are paid and a contract is signed. However, the employers who enlist their services must share accountability for the actions of recruiters. ILO Convention 181- Private Employment Agencies Convention - details a number of core principles of ethical recruitment, including the prohibition of fees charged to workers, and voluntary codes and protocols which should be developed to protect workers, including those in the education sector.

So, if you are intending to teach in another country, you must watch out for unscrupulous recruitment agencies and employers. We encourage you to look at the checklist or list of questions you must ask before migrating on this website


“Managing Labour Migration: Professionals, Guest Workers and Recruiters.” Martin, Philip. Report presented at the United Nations Expert Group Meeting on International Migration and Development, New York: July 6-8, 2005.


The recruitment process and contract terms have far reaching implications for a teacher’s ability and willingness to assert her/his rights or raise concerns or questions. 

Unethical practices

There are documented examples of instances in which recruiters

  • Intimidate teachers
  • Force migrants into housing contracts
  • Misrepresent pay
  • Charge inflated fees
  • Require the use of predatory lenders 
  • Threaten to rescind migrant teachers’ visas 


Some ‘online agencies’ collecting fees in advance are actually shady and sometimes sham private institutions seeking to exploit workers’ intense interest in posts abroad (Duttagupta, 2014). 

A Delhi-based recruitment agency with a professional-appearing website had no apparent brick and mortar headquarters at the street address provided.  

Increased Cost

Asymmetry of information and a “chain of actors” in international recruitment both increase overall costs by adding layers of fees. 

When a position abroad promises to substantially increase a teacher’s earnings, recruiters often feel that they can charge higher fees, employers may be tempted to pay lower wages that will still be comparatively attractive, and source countries hope for returns in the form of increased remittances.  

Recruiters have a financial interest in making “pull” factors seem as tempting as possible and too often mislead teachers by encouraging inflated and inaccurate expectations about life abroad. 

Online teacher recruitment agencies “overall are selling schools a low-cost, low-hassle ‘solution’ to teacher shortage problems while, in many cases, encouraging teachers to see registration as a first step to a fun-filled life of travel and adventure.” (De Villiers, 2011)..The sites often lack frank discussions of the real challenges of working abroad: such as classroom management or pupils with English as a second language.


Agencies screen for attributes considered to lead to success in teaching in a new cultural context

  • Self-management
  • Emotional resilience
  • Cultural awareness
  • Sense of humor

However, for some teachers, race or nationality is an indirect criteria. 

One agency hiring for schools in the United Kingdom selected no African teachers, despite them constituting 10% of the applicant pool. The reason offered: English is a second language for these candidates, whereas Indian South African applicants are native English speakers (Manik). 

Government-sponsored temporary work visa programs circumvent workplace equality laws and are “quietly reclassifying entire sectors of the U.S. workforce by race, gender, national origin and age.” A look across visa programs finds employers sorting workers into jobs based on racialized and gendered notions of work. This is in part because employers can ‘shop’ internationally for workers on employment agency websites that advertise workers like commodities. 

Race and country of origin may also affect terms of the recruitment contract. For example, migrant nurses recruited to the U.S. from high-income countries are significantly less likely to experience a violation of ethical recruitment principles than nurses from low-income countries (Pittman, 2012). Indeed, some problems are only faced by nurses from low-income countries, such as 

  • Needing to provide collateral and pay fees
  • Having their contract changed without their consent
  • Having immigration documents withheld
  • Not being informed of where they would be working.

Not surprisingly, this pattern of discrimination against nurses from low-income countries persists at the worksite, where they are three times as likely to be underpaid and to face threats of deportation. Discrimination in the healthcare sector is relevant. Many of the agencies recruiting teachers internationally originally formed to facilitate nurse migration (Bartlett, 2014). Second, patterns of discrimination appear to be the same in the education sector.


de Villiers, Rian (2011), "South African Teachers as Mobile Knowledge Workers in a Global Labor Economy", University of Pretoria. 

Duttagupta, Ishani. "Shady agents are to be blamed for illegal immigration from India." Economic Times, July 1, 2012.

Manik, Sadhana (2010) “Covert Research: Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater”,  University of Kwa-Natal, Durban, South Africa.

Pittman, Patricia. "Ethical Recruitment Practices: Strategies to Level the Playing Field." Alliance for Ethical Recruitment Research Presentation (2012).