By Kang Shin-who
Foreign teachers are complaining over the government's new immigration law asking them to submit police background checks and medical documents.
The reaction came after the Korea Immigration Service introduced legislation to ban foreigners with criminal records from getting an E-2 foreign language teaching visa.
So far, the government has required E-2 visa applicants to submit criminal records and health checkups under the immigration regulations since December 2007, just after the arrest of a pedophile suspect in Thailand who had taught children in Korea.
``The law, which will be put into effect from the end of March, will more thoroughly prevent foreigners with criminal records from coming to Korea than just regulations,'' said Song So-young, an immigration official.
The official said the growing number of crimes committed by E-2 visa holders has driven the authorities to set the requirements.
Foreign English teachers, however, say while there is a big push by the Korean government to increase the number of teachers, it should realize that such restrictions will keep qualified teachers away.
The Association for Teachers of English in Korea (ATEK) urged the government to scrap the requirements. ``ATEK backs Korea's efforts to simplify the E-2 visa application. Anything that makes it easier, quicker, or more convenient for qualified teachers to come and work is good for both foreign teachers and Korea,'' said Tony Hellmann, spokesman for the association.
A Canadian E-2 visa holder who declined to be named, said the law promotes racism and lacks principle of equity with other foreign nationals coming to Korea for other jobs. ``It's not clear that the increase in crimes by foreigners is due to English teachers. It's not fair that E2 visa holders are discriminated against,'' he said
``Above all, if they showed that E2 visa holders indeed were committing more crimes than other visa holders, people would understand. Right now it seems like misplaced outrage or concern. The government's motivation seems to be confused. Of course, everyone is blaming the Canadian teacher arrested in Thailand last year, but he didn't have a criminal record anywhere.''
Many other foreign teachers at private language institutes also complain that the government should apply the same visa screening rules to foreign English teachers holding other visas as those applied to other foreigners seeking E-2 visas.
``If the government has decided to tighten the issuance of teaching visas because of increasing number of crimes by foreign teachers, what about other foreign teachers holding other types of visas such as F-2 or F-4?'' said an Australian English teacher in Daejeon.
The immigration office said every country has its own right and guidelines to decide who they allow to issue visas to. The number of E-2 visa holders stood at some 20,000 last year.