Saturday, July 08, 2017

Justice Ministry announces it has ended HIV tests for English teachers

The Korea Herald reported yesterday that South Korea has done away with mandatory HIV tests for English teachers:
A controversial requirement for HIV testing of foreign language teachers has been scrapped, government officials confirmed to The Korea Herald on Thursday, almost 10 years after it was introduced.

Testing for HIV and drugs began in 2007 in response to pressure from citizens groups angered partly by a website on which teachers bragged about debauchery and the news that pedophile Christopher Paul Neil had taught in Korea.
For more (much more!) on the website and the netizen and media response it engendered, see here; for more on how the "citizens' group" Anti English Spectrum pushed to get the HIV tests in particular made into policy, see here. [I have a more thorough update to that post that I'll start posting soon.]
The Justice Ministry confirmed that a revision to visa regulations on July 3 removes the requirement for HIV testing when renewing or issuing E-2 visas. [...]

Choi Won-seok, director of human rights affairs at the Foreign Ministry, said that the change involved a number of related government bodies, including the Education Ministry, so that HIV testing would also not be required as a part of contracts with state education authorities.

He said the change was made in response to concerns raised from various sectors, including the UN and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea.
He is referring to how in May of 2015 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination ruled that Korea should drop its HIV testing requirements for foreign English teachers, and in September 2016 the National Human Rights Commission of Korea "recommended the government stop its mandatory HIV testing of foreign English teachers." It took some time for the government to respond to either of these, but it appears it finally has.

If we remember, in December 2010 the Korean government officially did away with all HIV testing restrictions on foreigners - except for E-2 visa holders. About a month later the Ministry of Justice posted an Immigration Control Law enforcement regulation titled "Notice of the Requirements of Medical Institutions Administering Drug Tests and Other Tests to be Submitted for Alien Registration," which can be found here. The Ministry of Justice released an amended version of this notice on July 3 which was exactly the same as the old one but which removed "HIV" from things to be tested for (the same drug testing system remains in place). It also announced that the old notice has been abolished as of July 3. (The new notice can be found by going here and searching for "법무부고시제2017-116호"; then go to page 69 of the resulting pdf.)

Perhaps one reason for finally abolishing the HIV restrictions is that the new Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-hwa, was formerly UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. As noted in this article, she once said, "While travel restrictions are a question of State sovereignty, it must be pointed out that States also have obligations under international law within which sovereign rights may be exercised[. ...] In particular, under basic norms of non-discrimination, States must provide compelling reasons for any differentiation in treatment, including in restricting travel for people living with HIV. We know that there are no such compelling reasons."

Another reason might be that a South Korean representative, Professor Chung Chin-sung, has just been elected to serve as the Korean expert on the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD); having to admit your own country was ignoring a CERD decision could make for awkward moments at the water cooler.

Of course, when it comes to the 2015 CERD decision, the ROK is still ignoring at least one of the Committee's recommendations:
The Committee recommends that the State party grant the petitioner adequate compensation for the moral and material damages caused by the above-mentioned violations of the Convention, including compensation for the lost wages during the one year she was prevented from working.
This certainly has not happened.

It should also be kept in mind that though the ROK had promised to remove HIV testing regulations in 2010, it kept the E-2 tests in place and lied to UNAIDS, which resulted in Korea being portrayed as an HIV-test-free nation in UNAIDS literature. And there have been hints that though HIV testing for migrant workers (E-9 visa-holders) had been officially lifted in 2010, these tests were still continuing. The 2017 EPIK contract for public school English teachers states that HIV tests are necessary. Granted, it has only been a few days, and the Korea Herald article stated that "the change involved a number of related government bodies, including the Education Ministry," but it would be worth keeping an eye out to make sure the contracts change. The contracts can be found here (where you can enjoy the "cleavagey white female stock model" who was photoshopped into the banner image).

Needless to say, as someone who made some contributions to the effort to get the HIV tests repealed, I'm pleased to see this finally, after almost a decade, come to pass. But it might be a good idea to make sure that they have actually been repealed in practice, and not just in a pro forma manner, before celebrating too much.

[Thanks to Ben Wagner for many of the above links - and, obviously, for putting in the effort to get us to this point.]

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