07-02-2009 19:14
[Exclusive] Teachers Fight Over Unfair Visa Rule


The Constitutional Court will review whether visa regulations requiring foreign English teachers to undergo HIV or drug test is discriminatory or not. / Korea Times File

By Kang Shin-who
Staff Reporter

A group of lawyers filed a petition Thursday with the Constitutional Court against newly implemented visa regulations requiring foreign English teachers to undergo HIV and drug tests.

The Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group Gong-Gam said it started the legal fight at the request of Andrea Vandom, an English instructor at Chung-Ang University.

But the lawyers said the action is on behalf of all foreigners here who might face discriminative treatment due to the regulations.

``The visa rules are against the Constitution, which guarantees the rights of freedom, equal treatment and privacy,'' Chang Suh-yeon, a Gong-Gam attorney, told The Korea Times.

The petition came after the Korea Immigration Service (KIS) extended an E-2 English teaching visa to Vandom last March even though she refused to submit mandatory HIV and drug test results. The American teacher and Gong-Gam initially planned to take legal action if the immigration office refused to issue a visa.

After the development, the KIS denied that it had issued a visa to Vandom without receiving the necessary medical documents, but the claim was later revealed to be false.

Admitting that an official renewed her visa by mistake, the immigration office said that it would demand the tests and deport her if she failed to heed the request.

The immigration office has tried to summon Vandom to no avail.

``It's a very sensitive issue. There are calls from parents for stricter screening of foreign English teachers, while foreigners are crying foul against the visa rules,'' said an official who declined to be named. ``We are still discussing how to deal with the case.''

Critics say the Vandom case appears to suggest the immigration authorities are inconsistent in applying visa regulations. Some claimed there has been ``selective and arbitrary enforcement.''

The KIS started asking E-2 visa applicants to submit criminal record and health check documents in December 2007 without backing up the appliance of the new regulations with data or statistics on AIDS and drug use among visa holders. It is on this basis that those opposing the regulations believe the authorities imposed them based on prejudicial and biased views that Westerners are promiscuous and use drugs.

``The regulations have been imposed with no reasonable grounds,'' Chang said.

The lawyer is confident that the court will side with the foreign teachers in the dispute.

Last December, a court ruled that the immigration office should cancel the deportation order against a foreigner who tested positive for HIV, and said it was in the interest of Koreans to detect and treat HIV/AIDS rather than to deport people.

More than 20,000 foreigners with E-2 visas were teaching English here as of June, according to the KIS.

kswho@koreatimes.co.kr