06-02-2009 17:46
[Exclusive] Teachers to Go to Court Over Visa Rule

By Kang Shin-who
Staff Reporter

A group of human rights lawyers plan to file a petition with the Constitutional Court against what they call discriminatory visa rules that require foreign English teachers to take an HIV and drug tests.

Chang Suh-yeon, an attorney with the Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group ``Gong-Gam,'' told The Korea Times Tuesday that her group will take the issue to the court this week or next.

``The visa rules violate the Constitution that guarantees a basic right to freedom, equal treatment, the pursuit of happiness and the protection of privacy,'' Chang said.

``They are based on vague prejudice and bias that foreign English teachers have disordered sex lives and use drugs,'' she added.

Under immigration regulations, applicants for an E-2 English teaching visa have been required to submit documents on criminal records and health checks since December 2007 after the arrest in Thailand of pedophile suspect Christopher Neil, who had once taught children in Korea.

A foreign teachers group has already filed complaints with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK), claiming the visa regulations were discriminatory.

The human right agency plans to hold a public hearing on the issue late this month in order to finalize an official position as early as July.

``A subcommittee consisting of three members will rule on the complaint. If there are conflicts among the panel members, the petition will be forwarded to a larger committee consisting of 11 members,'' said Lee Sung-taek, an official of the state agency.

If it backs the foreign teachers group, it is likely to push the Ministry of Justice to revise the related law and also influence future rulings by the Constitutional Court.

The Association for Teachers of English in Korea have contended the government should apply the same regulations to foreign English teachers as it does to Korean English teachers.

In response, the ministry says that a visa policy is a country's own right and foreign nationals are not entitled to complain about it. ``We believe the human rights agency is well aware of this fact and will take sides with us,'' said Ahn Kyu-seok, a ministry official.

Meanwhile, the ministry has not taken any action against an American English lecturer who refused to submit mandatory health checks but still had her E-2 visa renewed.

Andrea Vandom, working at Chung-Ang University, visited the Suwon Immigration Office last March and got the visa without health check documents.

After the incident, the immigration office said the approval was a mistake by an official and that it would ask her to submit the necessary documents. The office added that it would deport her if she didn't heed the request.