"volunteerism" tourism in 3rd World - how do host countries handle visas and migration restrictions?

when people go to do menial or teaching jobs in the 3rd World as part of charity activities, in economic terms this sounds a lot like going to work for local minimum wage or below (maybe you even end up paying for it…). Well, when people try to do that in America or Europe, the government is supposed to sue the organization for minimum wage violations and also try to deport the offending worker. It’s called protecting the local workers from unfair competition. If some “Peace Corps” zero cost foreign teachers were to show up in Washington DC and set up their own school, I don’t think that the local teachers’ union would be happy about it.

So how do the governments of the 3rd world nations targeted handle this? Do they just profoundly don’t care and will give a work/volunteer/whatever visa to all that come that is connected to a “registered charity”? Or do they only give those visas let’s say to Americans/Europeans to screen out migrants from China/Pakistan/Mexico/other big and poor countries? Do they have officials running around verifying what exactly those let-in volunteers are doing, if there are any requirements for that in terms of the visa conditions? Is this a serious political issue in some countries that in the West is swept under the rug because it doesn’t mesh with the propaganda from the foreign aid / NGO establishment?

Well, for Peace Corps specifically, they only send volunteers to countries that request volunteers. They work pretty closely with local governments and officials to make sure that volunteers are placed where they are wanted and needed. There are all kinds of high-level negotiations that go on to make sure everyone gets their visas and papers sorted out, but the exact details vary by country. In Cameroon I was issued a two year visa from the embassy in DC. No doubt Peace Corps volunteers represent a large chunk of the Americans applying for Cameroonian visas, and after working with Peace Corps for 30 years, they have it all figured out. Cameroon’s relationship with Peace Corps is very close. They know us and trust us.

In China, where Peace Corps is not as large a presence, I have a work residence permit that I am responsible for renewing with my local authorities every year. It’s much like any paid foreign teacher, except mine has no fees. I have to submit documents from my local university and from Peace Corps vouching for my legitimacy. No doubt Peace Corps is in constant contact with local authorities and the central government. For example, even my requests for vacation time are vetted by local authorities as well as Peace Corps. So they all work pretty closely together and our work is pretty closely monitored on all sides.

If a country is requesting education volunteers, it is because they have a serious lack personnel. I’ve taught for four years with Peace Corps. In my first country, Cameroon, my school had 2,000 students and about 30 teachers. The country had 17 million people and only 7 universities. Even a Bachelor’s degree was a rare thing, especially in the remote places we were posted. We were truly providing something that was not available elsewhere.

Here in China our volunteers only teach university level English, mostly in poor schools that otherwise would not have quality native speakers teaching. Without us, our students (almost all English majors) probably would not have many opportunities to converse with native speakers.

Though paid foreign teachers sometimes accuse us of depressing the value of their work, the truth is that there are not enough of us to make an impact, and in any case Peace Corps volunteers are a different breed. We do after school activities, office hours, etc. that paid foreign teacher do not do. Furthermore, out here in the sticks the paid foreign teachers often have faked degrees, no teacher training, and questionable motivations (as in they are basically here to hit on their students.) Peace Corps is generally a cut above that.

In any case, it’d be a misnomer to call Peace Corps “tourism.” Peace Corps is a somewhat competitive program that is looking for educated and experienced volunteers. We generally do not do “menial labor.” The majority of our work is working with- not in competition with- local organizations teaching, training, organizing, writing grants and doing other high-level work. It’s considered a 24 hour a day job, and we are required to be in our communities connecting and working with people, even on weekends and holidays. While we are considered volunteers, our living allowance is supposed to be on-par with local people doing the same work. I got paid exactly what a Cameroonian high school teacher makes. It’s an extremely tough job- both mentally and physically- but it can be extremely rewarding.

I strongly suspect it would be extremely difficult for someone who wasn’t a part of an organization to easily obtain a visa to do the sort of job a Peace Corps Volunteer does. My own visa was for two years, and I also had to annually get a national ID card that said I was a legal resident of Bulgaria - Peace Corps provided me with the paperwork that verified I was a legit volunteer. As for my actual job, it was through an agreement between the US and Bulgaria that allowed me to work in the Bulgarian public schools. Upon completion of our three-month pre-service training, everyone in my group was given a certificate that basically said we were legit to teach in the Bulgarian public school system; the methodology of our training had been accepted by the Ministry of Education as acceptable. So it’s not like I was just a random person who decided to teach English in the public school system, I went through an approved course of training to become a teacher.

I don’t have the experience of working with any other organizations, but IME, Peace Corps works pretty closely with the host country government to provide what they want, not to provide its own agenda. It’s a Peace Corps regulation that all offices need to have a minimum of three Americans, and at least at the Bulgaria office, that’s all they have. The other fifty or so employees of PC Bulgaria - including our program managers, who ensured that we were doing what we were supposed to be doing, and were trained properly - were all Bulgarians, so I’m pretty sure they weren’t trying to…I don’t know, propagandize us or something.