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.