An ethnic Asian’s job application to work as a native English tutor was rejected by an agency on the grounds that its client – a tutorial centre – prefers Caucasian applicants. It sparked an outcry online from fellow teachers who said they also faced the same problem.

Whatsapp screenshots seen by HKFP showed the applicant had sought to apply for a full-time native English tutoring position advertised by Tri Idea Group. The agency matches education centres, tutors and students.

However, they responded that their client may prefer a Caucasian.

My Tri Tutor Tri Idea Group
Photo: HKFP Screnshot.

When the applicant claimed that the hiring practice was racist, the agency responded that the tutorial centre wanted to “keep its image,” but added that there are many good Asian teachers.

The job advertisement stated that applicants must be degree holders with one year’s experience, and would be responsible for teaching phonics, speaking, writing and the Young Learners English tests.

The applicant – who wished to remain anonymous – told HKFP she was in her 30s with several years of teaching experience. She said she obtained a bachelor’s degree in education in Australia, and held a registered teacher licence with Hong Kong’s Education Bureau.

Though she believed that English tutor employers often prefer westerners, she said it was her first ever experience of being rejected on ethnic grounds: “I never received such verbal and direct remarks before.”

Social media outrage

The exchange prompted angry reactions when it was posted on a closed teacher Facebook group, but many said that the practice was common in Hong Kong.

Students primary school
Students in Hong Kong.

“I’ve worked at one centre where I was told not to wear an ethnic blouse cus they don’t want parents be like ‘why is an ‘Indian’ teaching English?’” wrote one commenter.

“There are ways to market yourself differently, such as finding parents that are scared of ‘Caucasians’ and require an Asian face,” wrote another.

The applicant told HKFP her rejection may have been a business decision: “[They want] to protect their rights of the parents and they think hiring westerners can help them to earn more money.”

“I don’t think they are racist in the sense that they have personally have something against [non]-white people,” added one Facebook user. “If you had a business wouldn’t you want to earn as much as you could? I don’t say it’s correct but I think that’s the truth.”

Tri Idea Group declined to disclose the details of its client to HKFP, or speak about whether ethnicity plays a role in its decision to refer applicants to clients. “I mean why [are] you interested? It is not a big news,” a staffer said over instant message.

Legality concerns

The applicant said that she wished to report the incident to the Equal Opportunities Commission – Hong Kong’s anti-discrimination watchdog. The watchdog told HKFP it could not comment on specific cases before investigating the facts in detail.

The Equal Opportunities Commission. Photo: Equal Opportunities Commission.

“However, it should be noted that under the Race Discrimination Ordinance, it is unlawful for employers to selectively hire persons of a certain race unless they can show that the race of the employee is a Genuine Occupational Qualification (GOQ),” said a spokesperson.

See also: Caucasians only: Newspaper ad for English teacher job may have violated discrimination rules

Examples of a GOQ given by the spokesperson included jobs that provide welfare or sensitive services to people of a particular racial group, or jobs in modelling and entertainment where a person of a particular race is needed for purposes of authenticity.