East vs West
Sydney Business Zara

Cultural Differences: Cash-In-Hand Work In China And The West

In China, Guangzhou, while on a networking lunch (关系) with my English student, we came to discuss the cultural differences between how business operates in Chinese and Western societies.

My student began, “My mother runs a business.  She wants to sell some Chinese products to outside markets, such as the Australian market.  What do you think?”

I asked my student to clarify.

He continued, “She would like to offer you a job.”

Business partnership, trust, and networks (关系) are fundamental to business success in China.

In Western countries however, business is more industrialized, where established businesses will open up communication channels between each other to generate more business.

My English student had offered me an opportunity to enter into his mother’s Chinese business.

Immediately, I knew employment in his mother’s Chinese business was not going to be possible.

The Rules To Hire A Foreigner In China

I enlightened my student, “That is a very kind offer, but your mom would need to obtain an employer license to employ a foreigner in her Chinese company.  Then she would need to secure a work visa invitation confirmation letter from the Chinese government.  Does she have any foreigners working in her Chinese company right now?”

Caught unaware, he replied, “No.  The company is very big, and it wants to expand.”

I explained the process to hire a foreigner in China was not easy.

I disclosed, “One time I visited an IT business in Guangzhou.  A Chinese friend was the boss there.  I asked whether he could offer me a position in his Chinese company.  He agreed.  But we quickly discovered the Chinese company needed to acquire a special employment license to have a foreigner work in their Chinese company.  It became too hard.”

He had never considered this scenario before.

Chinese People Finding Illegal Work In The West

Then we moved to discuss illegal black-market work in China compared to Australia.

In Australia, a company that needs to look overseas to hire employees need to seek permission from the Australian government to employ international workers on a 457 work visa.

However, backpackers or international students with work rights in Australia will readily seek black market jobs.

One notable cultural difference between Western and Eastern societies is the success at which a foreigner can blend into the workforce undetected.

Australia is a very successful, multicultural country, where all shapes, sizes, nationalities, colors, and creeds make up the Australian demographic.

Therefore, in Australia, a Chinese national can easily work unlawfully in an Asian supermarket for example, and remain undetected by authorities.

Chinese international students in Australia who seek cash-in-hand employment by a local Chinese business find it easy to secure this type of employment.

There is nothing foreign about Asians in Australia.  Australian citizenship does not discriminate on race.  Asians are Australian citizens too.  So, it is quite easy for a larger Australian company to hide an unlawful foreign employee using under-the-table payments.

Foreigners Finding Illegal Work In China

In a mono-racial country like China, culturally, you cannot hide your foreign-ness.

In China, if you are a non-Chinese worker who walks out of a Chinese company for lunch, and the local police see you, your appearance alone will indicate that you are not a local Chinese.  That will be a quick trip to the police station, and to your eventual deportation.

This is why the right paperwork and visa status is essential in China.

This distinction confused my English student because he knew I work as an English teacher in China.  He assumed I had an all-encompassing Chinese work visa that would allow me unfettered work for any company in China.  He believed it would be easy to offer me another, better job in a Chinese company.

In China, to have an official position in a company, you need permission from the Chinese government, and that becomes more cumbersome.

I explained to my student how English teachers in China usually work illegally.  “Normally a foreigner needs a bachelor degree to legally work in China.  That is why so many foreigners pick English teacher jobs, because with an English teacher job a foreigner would be hired for their English-language fluency, and be paid under the table.”

Cash In Hand Payments In China / The West

Another related cultural difference between Chinese and Western business is the cash-in-hand system.  China lacks a mature cash-in-hand concept.

I did receive cash-in-hand payments as a private English tutor.  I was also paid via WeChat (微信) when I worked as an English teacher for an English academy, but the income was still taxed.

China could have a job market more accessible to foreigners.  Jobs such as acting, modelling, tutoring (家教), and English teaching should have a lower entry level for foreigners.

In China, I never see foreigners operating a news stand, a drinks shop, or asking, “Can I help you,” in a supermarket.

In Australia, cash-in-hand payments are prevalent in small businesses that have few employees.  There is no incentive to run a payroll system if you are a corner store with a small turnover.  In essence, foreigners who find work opportunities in these small businesses can earn an income while in Australia.

Chinese small businesses however have not reached the level of sophistication to run a cash-in-hand system.  That makes it hard for foreigners, as does all the government red tape that prevents foreigners from taking up gainful employment in China.

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