The E-2 visa first appeared in 1993. Prior to that teachers were grouped in with other categories in an employment (취업) visa, or the (9-11) visa which was described in the legislation requiring foreign teachers to have work visas in 1984. Here's how E-2 visa numbers have changed over 22 years:
1993 - 1,136
1994 - 2,241
1995 - 4,230
1996 - 7,473
1997 - 7,607
1998 - 4,927
1999 - 5,009
2000 - 6,414
2001 - 8,388
2002 - 10,864
2003 - 10,822
2004 - 11,344
2005 - 12,439
2006 - 15,001
2007 - 17,721
2008 - 19,771
2009 - 22,642
2010 - 23,317
2011 - 22,541
2012 - 21,603
2013 - 20,030
2014 - 17,949
2015 - 16,144
E-2 numbers are now below 2007 figures. Here's a graph to help visualize the numbers:
Note though that after the "IMF crisis" hit in late 1997 many teachers would have left before the 1997 stats would have been recorded December 31, so there would have been quite a few more people working as teachers before the crisis began. One way to try to guess is to gauge the differences between people on E-2 visas at the end of the year and the number of people recorded as entering the country on that visa during the year. Since English teachers tended to travel outside the country, the latter number has always been larger than the former. What I did was see how much bigger that latter number was:
1993 - 1,136 E-2 visa-holders at year’s end; 1,959 entered the country , or 1.72 times more.
1994 - 2,241 E-2 visa-holders at year’s end; 4,277 entered the country , or 1.91 times more.
1995 - 4,230 E-2 visa-holders at year’s end; 7,695 entered the country , or 1.82 times more.
1996 - 7473 E-2 visa-holders at year’s end; 13,787 entered the country , or 1.84 times more.
Over these four years the number of E-2 visa holders is outpaced by number of people entering the country on that visa by an average of 1.82 Now let’s look at 1997:
1997 - 7,607 E-2 visa-holders at year’s end; 16,192 entered the country , or 2.12 times more.
Now if we multiply 7,607 visa holders by the average over the past four years, 1.82, we get 13,845. Subtract this from 16,192 and we get 2,347. Divide this by 1.82 and we get 1,290.
Add that projected number to 7,607 and we get 8,897 (an increase of 1,533 teachers over the previous year).
Worth noting, though, is that the 1994 E-2 numbers were 1.97 times that of 1993; the 1995 E-2 numbers were 1.89 times that of 1994; and the 1996 E-2 numbers were 1.77 times that of 1995. The projected number of 8,897 for 1997 is only 1.19 times that of 1996. It’s possible, then, that the number was quite a bit higher, so assuming for 9,000 teachers before the currency crisis hit is likely not too outrageous a projection. It’s possible a saturation point was reached then and the numbers didn’t increase as much; a similar thing happened in 2003 and 2004, which I remember well as I was looking for a job at the time and finding one that gave decent compensation and hours wasn’t easy. But considering the growth of the previous four years, it might be more apt to compare it to the heady years of 2005 to 2009, years of growth helped to a great degree by public school hiring, which initially began in 1995.
So, let's increase the numbers in 1997 to 9000:
Also interesting is looking at these stats with public school native speaking teachers highlighted (based on stats from here, here, and here):
But perhaps even more interesting is removing the public school teachers:
(That should say 'Hagwon E-2 holders.')
While the total number of E-2s peaked in 2010 (actually, by month, February 2011), the number of hagwon-employed E-2s peaked in 2008. This may be because the school programs (like cheaper or free summer or winter camps) were cutting into hagwon bottom lines, as I saw in the neighbourhood I lived in, or because more teachers went into the schools leaving hagwon jobs unfilled. The latter is unlikely however, considering the number of Americans who moved into teaching jobs here after the financial crisis in the US in 2008.
(Keep in mind while most public school NSETs were on E-2 visas, not all were - some were on F-4 gyopo visas - but I've treated the graphs above as if they were all E-2 because its not possible to know otherwise.)
Lastly, here are the numbers for total number of foreigners in Korea over the last 6 years - it should surpass 2 million soon:
2010 - 1,261,415
2011 - 1,395,077
2012 - 1,445,103
2013 - 1,576,034
2014 - 1,797,618
2015 - 1,899,519