Envoys Criticize Teaching-Visa Rule
Foreign envoys whose countries adopt English as an official language criticize what they call Korea's discriminative visa regulations against foreign English teachers. Korea allows English teaching or E-2 visas to only native-English speakers from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland.
The envoys said the ``narrow-minded'' visa policy prevents Koreans from developing English proficiency in a more efficient and cheaper way. They also argue it is against international norm of equal treatment for all.
Last week, Pakistani Ambassador Murad Ali sent a letter to Justice Minister Chung Soung-jin, urging the Seoul government to allow qualified Pakistanis the English teaching visa.
``The condition of being a `native speaker' may please be removed so that a level playing field is offered to the competitors from Pakistan,'' he said in the letter.
He also said that the regulation violates the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules (Article II of GATS), which mandate most-favored-nation (MFN) treatment to all WTO members.
Philippine Ambassador Susan Castrence said it is bizarre that Korea does not allow Filipinos the visa even though an increasing number of Koreans go to the Philippines to study English.
She said that 1,312 Philippino teachers taught many subjects including English at all various levels in schools in many other countries such as the United States in 2007.
``Even the native-English speaking United States gets teachers from the Philippines, and why not Korea,'' she said. ``You will be solving the dearth of English teachers with Philippine teachers.''
The envoys said in unison that Korea seems to be a rare country which gives English teaching visas based on nationality rather than qualification. For example, neighboring countries such as Japan and China issue the visa to qualified foreigners regardless of their nationality.
Singaporean Ambassador Chua Thai Keong, who witnessed Asian English teachers in Japan during his tenure there, said that Korea needs to be ``racially blind'' to get the best teachers. ``You can't solve the problem by limiting choices,'' he added.
The ambassadors said the introduction of English teachers from their countries would save Korea a lot of money earmarked for English education and would not cause social problems because they share common Confucian values.
The Justice Ministry left open the possibility for change in the regulation though it has not responded to the envoys' request yet.
Kim Young-geun, an immigration official said, ``The visa regulation can be revised, depending on public opinion and the minister's decision. But basically, we don't allow English teaching visas to foreigners who come from nations where, although English is used as an official language, it is not the native tongue.''
According to visa regulations, only native English-speaking nationals with a bachelor's degree or above are eligible for the English teaching visa. The Justice Ministry issues the visa to non-native English-speakers only in exceptional cases.
Should the regulation is revised, schools both pubic and private will likely hire English teachers from the Asian countries because senior educators including Seoul's top educator are positive about the Asian English teachers.
In a recent interview with The Korea Times, Kong Jeong-taek, superintendent of Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, who has authority to determine the number of foreign teachers in Seoul schools, said it is time for Korean schools to open the door to Asian English teachers.
However, many private language institutions and parents remain negative about the Asian English teachers mainly due to their pronunciation.
``It would not be the right English education if Filipinos or Indians teach our young children with a bad accent,'' said Jeun Eun-ja, spokesman of the National Association of Parents for Cham-Education.
Kim Min-suk, spokeswoman of JungChul Language School, said that her school does not employ Asian English teachers because she believes the students prefer Caucasians. About 99 percent of teachers are white and the rest are Korean-Americans, she added.
Asian teachers proficient in English may have image problems in getting wider recognition from students, according to a parent of a high-school student in Goyang City, Gyeonggi Province.
Meanwhile, Indian Ambassador Nagesh Rao Parthasarthi stressed that not accent but communication is more important than anything else when it comes to English education.
``What is important now is to find a way to teach our children English in the most effective way and also ensuring good values for money,'' he said. ``Having an accent only means knowing one more language. Your English is mainly to communicate effectively.''