I've written about the history of scapegoating English teachers before, and it's worth noting that the introduction of the new E2 visa rules was due to xenophobic (and overblown) media portrayals of white foreign English instructors, which really started after the English Spectrum incident 4 years ago when 'white foreign teacher' became associated with "sexual harassment" (even though, as Korea Beat points out, the photos posted at English Spectrum of a sexy costume party attended by Foreign men and Korean women pale in comparison to those found in the adults only online section of the Chosun Ilbo). One of the immediate results of this controversy was the creation of the Anti-English Spectrum Cafe, which is dedicated to ridding Korea of 'low quality' teachers, while another highlight of the media/netizen frenzy in early 2005 was 그것이 알고싶다's episode about English Teachers, titled "Is Korea their Paradise? Report on the Real Conditions of Blond-haired, Blue-eyed Teachers," which began with a dramatization of a male English teacher molesting a kindergarten student (If you were to do a similar style hatchet job on Korean students in America, it would start out, "Cho Seung-hui killed more than 30 American students, and just recently a Korean crime ring was busted in Virginia - is America their paradise of guns and easy money laundering?"). Needless to say, the show made people angry.
After a former English teacher in Korea, Christopher Neil, was arrested for sex crimes against children in Thailand in October 2007, the Korean Immigration Service announced that it would change the rules for obtaining E2 visas, and the language it used might have sounded familiar (edited from this translation):
The Korean Government will prevent illegal activities by verifying requirements of native English teacher and tighten their non-immigrant status [...] [and will] eradicate illegal activities of native English teachers who are causing social problems such as ineligible lectures, taking drugs and sex crimes. English teachers, who disturb social order during their staying in Korea such as illegal teaching, taking drugs and sex crimes, will be banned from entering South Korea.[...] [We will] prevent illegal English teaching activities and the taking of drugs and sexual harassment of English teachers, [...] teachers who disrupt the social order by taking drugs, committing sexual harassment and alcohol intoxication.Is it just me, or does such language seem to reflect the almost three years of xenophobic media reports equating white male English instructors with sexual misconduct, drug use, AIDS and even lawlessness? The release by immigration ended with this:
It is expected the uneasiness of citizens incurred from ineligible English teachers will be mitigated [...] thanks to this measure on the native English teachers by the Ministry of Justice.It might be worth asking who created such uneasiness in the first place. Not that laws haven't been broken by English teachers, of course, but things were so blown out of proportion that my boss could mention in 2006 that there had been 'many' sexual 'problems' and crimes recently due to English teachers. When I asked for examples, none were forthcoming. What's interesting about the Korean Immigration Service's E-2 Visa Policy Memo (which mandates the drug and HIV checks) is that, according to an ATEK statement,
This Policy Memo was not created byI do find it rather ironic that in order to combat the spectre of English teacher crime - which certainly didn't exist to the extent that the media (or Immigration) made it out to be, and which had little basis in fact, Immigration created rules that have no legal basis - phantom rules for phantom crime. . It did not go through the formal regulation approval process (which is why it is called a "policy memo," and not an "enforcement ordinance" or "regulation"). The Korean Immigration Service acted independently and without oversight in adopting these rules, which are at odds with both domestic and international law.
Still, Immigration does not treat them as such, and English teachers are bound by them. ATEK is asking that all foreigners applying for teaching jobs to be treated equally. If people applying for teaching visas (E1 and E2) have to submit criminal record tests and health/drug tests, then people who already have (or are eligible to get) F-2 or F-4 visas who want to teach in Korea should have to submit them as well before they can get teaching jobs. I think focussing on this question of equality between the different visa categories is a good way to frame the issue, as is the question of protecting children (the words 'children' and 'students' were not mentioned once in the Immigration notice quoted above).
The rest of this post is from an ATEK announcement I received yesterday, which begins by quoting the Joongang Ilbo article:
"The current drug tests, HIV tests and criminal background checks are discriminatory," said Tony Hellmann, ATEK's communications director. "They reflect a mindset that foreign teachers are potentially dangerous because they are foreign."
"ATEK cares deeply about the protection of Korea's children," he added. "Measures such as , which are designed to ensure that only the highest quality teachers work in Korea, should be supported, but when such measures are applied only to some groups of teachers and not others, their ability to protect children is compromised. ATEK supports a single standard applied to all who teach children - for the protection of all children."
The has an site with an online complaint form. They investigate all complaints filed and the on the Ending of All Forms of monitors the number of complaints. of complaints will show the UN that there is a problem here. The Korean government routinely tells the UN that foreigners are satisfied with the requirements, because there are never any complaints! We urge all teachers to exercise the rights granted them under the constitution, and fill out the online form. It takes only five minutes and the Commission does not share your name or identifying information with any other government agencies. Your complaint is anonymously investigated.
ATEK urges all teachers to exercise their Korean constitutionally-guaranteed rights and file an online complaint with the of Korea.
ATEK has prepared instructions for filling out the form, and some suggested things you can say. You can find the instructions on their website. Please be a part of the first time the non-citizen teaching community has come together to make our voices heard. Make yours heard too.