Posted : 2008-10-19 17:13
Updated : 2008-10-19 17:13

Ethnic Koreans Face Tougher Screening

By Kang Shin-who
Staff Reporters

The authorities are moving to require ethnic Koreans to submit documents proving they have no criminal record and undergo drug testing when they apply for English teaching positions here.

``We understand hagwon (private language institutes) and after-school programs lack the system of weeding out unqualified teachers among those ethnic Koreans and foreigners holding visas other than E-2,’’ said Seo Myung-bum, director general from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
``We are considering measures to screen their criminal and drug records.’’

The move comes even though the immigration authorities say they have no plan to change the current visa policy favoring ethnic Koreans as reported by The Korea Times (Oct. 6).

Under the Korean visa rules, native English speakers applying for English teaching visa or E-2 visa are obliged to submit police background checks and medical documents.

However, ethnic Koreans or spouses of Korean nationals are exempted from the obligations as they are eligible for F-4 and F-2 visas, respectively.

There are diverse ways to block ``unqualified’’ foreign teachers with F-type visas, the director general said. The ministry will revise related rules to require schools and hagwon to receive criminal records and medical documents from ethnic Korean teachers, he said.

Seo said the government would discuss the issue with other government agencies as ``it was not a simple job.’’

Currently more than 500 teachers with F-2 (spouses of Koreans) or F-4 (ethnic Koreans) visas are teaching English in regular classes at elementary and secondary schools across the country, according to the ministry.

However, the government is unable to find the number of F-visa holding foreign teachers for after-school programs and hagwon.

The criminal and drug checkups for foreigners seeking English teaching jobs were introduced last year following the arrest of pedophile suspect Christopher Neil in Thailand. Neil had taught children in Korea.

In another case, David Heyon Nam, a Korean American wanted by the FBI for murder was arrested last March here and the news that he had been teaching English at hagwon in Gyeonggi Province for almost 10 years shocked the country.

However, the government has not come up with any steps to ease underlying concerns over unqualified English teachers.

According to the Korea Immigration Service, among the 38,689 F-4 visa holders, there are 26,010 Americans, 6,249 Canadians and 2,106 Australians in August.

As an initial step, the government is considering obliging elementary and secondary schools to screen foreign holding F visas.

``Under the current law, it takes more time to screen foreigners working for after-school programs and hagwon,’’ said Oh Sei-an, an official of the English Education Policy Team at the ministry.

In the case of the ``Teach and Learn in Korea’’ (TaLK) program that has invited a number of ethnic Koreans, the government required all participants to submit criminal records and health checkups.

``It’s not fair to give exemptions in screening unqualified educators dealing with children,’’ said Park Bum-yi, director of the National Association of Parents for True Education. ``The government must strengthen screening system for foreign teachers. And gyopo also must be screened for criminal and drug records.’’
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