Ethnic Korean Teachers Not Screened for Criminal, Drug Record
By Kang Shin-who
South Korea’s visa policy has been accused of favoring ``gyopo’’ or ethnic Korean English teachers over other foreign nationals, with this favoritism creating loopholes in the system making it easier for those with criminal and drug records to go undetected. However, the government has indicated it has no immediate plan to change visa rules.
Many foreign nationals and operators of language institutes or hagwon claim that the government should apply the same visa screening rules to ethnic Korean English teachers as those applied to other foreigners seeking E-2 visas.
``The Korean immigration authorities require native English speakers to submit criminal records and health checkups, but gyopo are exempted from the requirements. Korean Americans, Korean Canadians and other foreign nationals of Korean descent are not always clean from drugs and diseases,’’ said Choi Chang-jin, the director at the Korea Association of Foreign Language Academies. ``It’s an unfair visa policy in the eyes of other foreigners.’’
He said he has witnessed some English instructors who were once expelled from Korea return to the country with other visas such as an F-2 or F-4, taking advantage of this system.
Under the Korean visa rules, native English speakers seeking E-2 visa are obliged to submit police background checks. However, foreigners who are ethnic Koreans or married to Korean nationals are exempt from the requirements as they are eligible for F-4 and F-2 visas, respectively.
Most other foreign English teachers call it ``discriminative.’’
``E-2 visa regulations are not reasonable. In fact the rules promote racism,’’ said a Canadian who is teaching English in Gyeonggi Province, asking not to be named.
Even some Korean Americans also believe the rules have flaws.
``I know of some gyopo here with criminal records holding F-4 visas. They are teaching at hagwon. Korean visa rules favoring certain foreigners by race is definitely unfair,’’said a Korean American who is teaching English at an elementary school under the state-run English program with an E-2 visa.
A former English teacher in Cheonan also told The Korea Times that he was working with several unqualified ethnic Korean teachers.
``They are all Canadian-Koreans who have never been to college. You might want to check their backgrounds in Canada for drugs,’’he said.
Some foreign teachers have been asked to provide medical and security checks even though by law they do not have to. Keef Oxford who is on an F-2 visa (married to a Korean) was asked to undergo these checks even though they are required for an E-2 only. ``I was asked to undergo a medical, dental and police record checks at my own cost,’’ said Keef. ``I was outraged and asked about my Korean colleagues but was told they were exempt, so I refused.’’
Regarding the complaints, the Korea Immigration Service said it was ``reasonable discrimination under the Immigration Law.’’
Kim Tae-soo, an immigration official said, ``It’s our authority and policy to favor ethnic Koreans. We know there might be unqualified ethnic Koreans teaching English here, but you also need to understand there is no 100 percent perfect system. Other European countries also favor to their own people.’’
However, many experts point out the visa system is still unfair. ``It is discriminative and should be revised as ethnic Koreans who gave up Korean citizenships are obviously foreigners,’’ said Lim Hyun-chin, a sociology professor at Seoul National University. ``Moreover, I am not sure how we can tell ethnic Koreans from those who are not. For example, Singaporeans using a family name `Lim’ could originate from Korea but there is no way to prove it,’’
The number of E-2 visa holders stood at 18,062 as of June, with F-2 and F-4 holders standing at 118,421 and 38,226, respectively, according to the Korean Immigration Service.