By Kang Shin-who
The Korea Immigration Service (KIS) allegedly extended an E-2 visa to an American teacher who refused to submit mandatory health checks.
Andrea Vandom, an English instructor at Chung-Ang University, visited the Suwon Immigration Office, Wednesday, to renew her status under the terms of the English-teaching visa rules.
But Vandom told The Korea Times that she had her visa extended ― even though she refused to submit papers on health checks, which are demanded under the regulations that govern the E2 visa. She only handed over criminal record documents to the authorities, she said.
This case appears to suggest that the immigration rules are being bent ― not applicable to those who complain strongly, she said.
Instead of producing documents showing HIV/AIDS and drug test results, she gave an immigration officer a letter.
It reads: ``Unfortunately, I will not be submitting the HIV/ AIDS test results or the tuberculosis drug test results that you have requested. These tests unreasonably discriminate against me as a foreigner living in Korea and are a violation of my human rights.''
In the letter, she also said that she has lived and worked in Korea for more than three years and does not understand why she is suddenly suspected of being a danger to Korean society.
``I have done nothing wrong, and yet the Korea Immigration Service wants to search my body. This is an invasion of my most private and personal rights and an affront to my human dignity,'' she said.
According to Vandom, after reading the letter, the immigration official showed the letter to one of his colleagues, and then his colleague came back and said, ``Last year, the law changed and you need HIV and drug tests.''
Vandom, 30, said she then replied, ``I understand what you are saying,'' and again directed his attention to the letter. At this point, she said, the immigration officer completed the sojourn application form and handed over her alien registration card saying ``visa extension, one year.''
``I feel relieved that my human rights were respected. However, I feel concerned about thousands of other E-2 visa holders living and working in Korea that have not been similarly treated,'' Vandom said.
The case is expected to ignite further dispute among a group of foreign English teachers who are campaigning against the controversial immigration regulations.
The alleged presence of selective enforcement is likely to provide a spur for the group's lobbying activities.
``If they had rejected Vandom, we planned to take legal action against the regulations, which have no legal grounds. But they just gave her a visa. We will continually support foreign teachers challenging the discriminative immigration rules,'' said Chang Suh-yeon, an attorney working for the Korean Public Interest Lawyers' Group, Gong-Gam.
But the KIS refuted the allegations. Kim Young-keun, a KIS spokesperson, said the immigration office in Suwon had received all of the necessary documents to allow the organization to grant a renewal. ``It is impossible for us to grant a visa in violation of the regulations,'' he said.
But Vandom claimed the KIS denial is a fabrication. ``It is shocking that the immigration office is lying about this. Why would I give them that letter if I were submitting the HIV/AIDS and drug tests?'' she said.
A group of foreign teachers, including the Association for Teachers of English in Korea (ATEK), have criticized AIDS and drug check-up rules, which have been imposed since December 2007.
According to KIS, some 21,000 foreigners held an E-2 visa as of February.