Monday, January 11, 2010

Reactions to the lifting of the HIV travel ban

In the Korea Herald, Adam Walsh and Matthew Lamers have an interesting article examining how the lifting of the HIV travel ban will affect people working in Korea who are already submitting HIV tests.
In an interview with Expat Living, Ministry of Justice spokesperson Ahn Gyu-seok said there have been no changes to the rules for testing foreigners for HIV that already reside within the country.

"Originally, we deported foreigners who tested positive for HIV. And they were not allowed to visit Korea again. But in light of the Jan. 1 announcement, the rule is just getting more flexible, meaning that the rule is not changed," the spokesperson said.
Oh, I see then. So what the Korean government said it's doing it's not really doing.
"If foreigners who work here test positive, we would not immediately deport them. ... If foreigners who test positive could be treated in Korea, we will let them stay. But as for foreigners who are judged by medical centers as highly dangerous, we will impose restrictions on them."

As for how someone who is HIV positive gets judged "dangerous," Ahn said that after the Ministry of Justice is informed of an individual's status, it is then up to the Ministry of Health to designate whether or not they are deemed a health threat, or "dangerous."
In other words, he passed the buck:
When reached for clarification, Park Il-hoon of the Ministry of Health said that a non-Korean could be deemed to be negatively influencing public health if he or she was found to be having sexual relations within Korea, which would open up the possibility of deportation and a ban from reentering Korea.

"If foreigners who test positive for HIV negatively influence public health, we will restrict them from revisiting Korea. For example, in the case of HIV-positive foreigners having sexual relationships within Korea is one example of when we would restrict someone," said Park. "If those foreigners do not influence public health, we, the Ministry of Health, will let them be treated with medication in Korea."
But how does one find out if someone is sexually active? Perhaps this is a niche Anti-English Spectrum could expand into. Instead of just making a passing comment speculating on someone's sex life after finding a used condom in their garbage, perhaps they could start collecting used condoms. [Note to self: If ever meet AES's manager Lee, don't shake hands.]

It seems that the lifting of the HIV travel ban will not effect Bill 3356, or so the national assembly representative who drafted it hopes:
Bill 3356 is scheduled to be debated in the Assembly in February. The bill, written by Assemblyman Lee Sang-jun, if passed, will mandate HIV/AIDS testing of all foreigners applying for work visas in Korea.

"It's good that the government is becoming more tolerant towards foreigners ... but we think that the government should prioritize the safety of our citizens before any other matters, so we think it was wrong for the Ministry of Justice to alleviate their regulations on allowing HIV positive foreigners to enter Korea," Lee's spokesperson Seo Bo-kun told The Korea Herald.

Seo further explained that part of the bill's intent is to ensure the safety of children taught by foreign English teachers. "I think this is rather a global trend. For instance, in the United States when schools are recruiting teachers the qualifications are stricter than other companies. They are especially cautious of their physical and health conditions."
So if the number of public school teachers is around 550,000 and the number of hagwon instructors and gwa-oe tutors is equal to that (I'd imagine it's much more), and if there were one million educators of all sorts, the 25,000 or so foreign English teachers (including an estimate of the number of F visa teachers) would come out to about 2.5% of all teachers. Is there really any reason to believe that testing only this small percentage of teachers who have a low crime rate (though the opposite is portrayed by the government, politicians, and the media) will really make children so much safer?
Benjamin Wagner, a professor of law at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, said the apparent removal of HIV-entry restrictions is more of a PR move for Korea. And since being chosen as the host for the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, Korea had come under criticism from non-government organizations due to the irony of hosting an international HIV conference while at the same time banning the entry of HIV-positive people.

"Korea's removal of the travel ban on foreigners with HIV is purely a symbolic gesture for the international community. In Korea nothing has changed," said Wagner. "In fact, the past year has seen an increase in mandatory in-country testing of foreign residents, with even foreign spouses of Korean nationals subject to compulsory tests in some cases. Migrant workers continue to be tested."
It's interesting that Wagner has argued in his report to the NHRCK that the instituting of HIV tests upon E2 visa holders was a symbolic measure to quell citizens' fears of foreign English teachers stirred up by irresponsible press reports (over the past five years, but especially in the wake of the Christopher Paul Neil case), and that now a symbolic gesture has supposedly removed the HIV travel ban, this time to put a stop to international criticism. I'm sure this is symbolic of something, but I don't feel the need to elaborate on what that is, since such clarification would just be a symbolic gesture anyways...


Hooking Up in Hanguk said...

This is really interesting, that they realize they need to appear like they are trying to change because they know it's only appropriate in this day and age, but are still held back by xenophobia. Korea is stuck in such a weird place between being considered highly developed, yet far behind socially.

I'm a bit ashamed to say I didn't know there was a travel-ban in Korea for HIV-positive foreigners. I wonder how many Koreans have it?

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many Koreans have it?

13,000 Koreans are estimated to have it. (UNAIDS)

Anonymous said...

A bit of a dance here by the Korean government indeed.

Then again AIDs is still rather uncommon in Korea and the government is focusing on areas where it could enter the country: foreign teachers who will be in direct contact with students.

AIDS cannot be transmitted casually (say by a hand shake) but it is a sexually transmissible disease...I ask this:

In the blog article it says: how do you know if someone is sexually active. do you know they are not active or if they are active that they protect themselves?

This issue is sensitive in the public opinion sphere and for good or ill the Korean government is elected and thereby responsible to Korean citizens.

If the requirement for a visa is an Aids Test and that is out in the open...then it becomes an employment choice for the applicant.

As a parent and teacher, to be completely honest, I would prefer my kids were not taught by a Teacher with an incurable and potentialy deadly disease, even if that disease is hard to transmit.

matt said...

So... I take it you mean that all public school teachers, hagwon teachers, and gwa-oe tutors should be tested for HIV, and not just foreigners?

Sandy said...

If public health is the real concern, then all Korean men returning from "golf" vacations in SE Asia should also be tested.

Anonymous said...

Hepatitis B is an example I like to bring up. As far as contagiousness, Korean law ranks it as a Type 2 contagious disease (Type 1 being the most contagious, Type 3 being the least).

The Korean government used to force job applicants to disclose Hep-B status. In 2003 the NHRCK made a recommendation that the measure was discriminatory and not a valid public health concern. In 2005, the government dropped the requirement.

HIV/AIDS, by the way, is classified as a Type 3 contagious disease. So less contagious than Hep B.

Here's what the NHRCK said about Hep B in its 2003 recommendation:

"While hepatitis B is a disease that can be transmitted prenatally from mother to fetus, or through sexual contact or blood transfusion, it is not a disease that is transmitted through ordinary work life. Furthermore, were it to be known throughout the workplace that a person was a carrier of hepatitis B, that person may be subject to discrimination on a daily basis, owing to the lack of accurate understanding on the part of potentially ill-informed colleagues as to the exact nature of transmittal. Thus, one could say that it would be illogical if not inappropriate to undertake hepatitis B testing for new government appointees based on concerns about the possibility of spreading disease. Even supposing that the appointee had contracted hepatitis B, that in itself would not necessarily mean that his or her condition would deteriorate and impair work ability ..."

Other than stigma, why shouldn't such a recommendation be appropriate in the case of HIV/AIDS, which according to Korean law is a less contagious disease?

On the other hand, if you've in favor of HIV/AIDS testing and Hep B testing. Why stop there? I've mentioned MRSA before. Kills more than AIDS in the US alone and is spread through simple skin-to-skin contact, or even contact with surfaces or shared item. The CDC is concerned about its spread in the schools and a fairly unobtrusive nostril test is available to see if teachers or students are "colonized" by the deadly bacteria...

If the concern is really about protecting the public health no matter how obtrusive or unlikely the risk of contagion, then clearly MRSA tests (and a host of other precautionary measures) should be instituted. Shouldn't there at least be someone monitoring the bathrooms to make sure teachers (foreign or domestic) properly wash their hands before returning to the classroom? (Assuming of course soap is even available.)

It seems pretty clear that stigma, and not public health concerns, is driving the AIDS tests.

Anonymous said...

I know this is nothing new, but neither is what Lee, Sang-jin has recently stated...
If protecting S. Korean children/students is really what it's about(me thinks Lee, Sang-jin is a liar), then any idiot can figure out that ALL Korean male/female teachers should also be tested for HIV/AIDS.

I'd like to know how/why Lee, Sang-jin stated..."It's good that the government is becoming more tolerant towards foreigners"

What he thinks is more "tolerant" are only things being said. BIG TALK, NO ACTION!
Thanks to men like Assemblyman Lee Sang-jun, South Korea = 1 step forward 10 steps backwards.

Darth Babaganoosh said...

13,000 Koreans are estimated to have it. (UNAIDS)

According the absurd method of calculating AIDS prevalence among foreigners in Korea, we actually get 500,000 Koreans with HIV.

Calculation method seen here:

Anonymous said...

Hep B is more contagious than Aids...that is not anything new.

Hep B is far more common in Korea than Aids. It is a disease that has been present in Korean for a long time and is transmitted locally for the most part.

Aids is a different beast.

Anyway,. my point is that the Korean government is simply reacting to public opinion from the people who vote: Korean citizens.

The protect the children angle is overdone and I basically agree ALL teachers should be tested (Korean and Foreign) for AIDS and for other incurable diseases that can be contagious. Simple common sense.

I also think all Public School Teachers whould be required to be certified (Foreign and Korean).

Koreans returning from Golf vacations should no more be tested than Foreigners returning from Phuket beach vacations....unless they teach kids.

Anonymous said...

"ALL teachers should be tested (Korean and Foreign) for AIDS and for other incurable diseases that can be contagious. Simple common sense."

Tests for all incurable diseases that can be contagious, no matter how rare and no matter how difficult they are to transmit?

Ok, but that's gonna be a lot of testing. Who pays for it? Should these costs take priority over other issues?

Which teachers are to be tested? Only those teaching kids? Or all teachers? What about students? Should they also be tested since they can transmit diseases to other students or teachers?

Are only teachers to be tested or anyone who has contact with students? And again, by students is there an age cut off?

Finally, should we use "simple common sense" in prioritizing concerns and making determinations about the scope of testing? Or should we just follow "public opinion from the people who vote"? And if these come in conflict which should prevail?

Anonymous said...

You said, "Aids is a different beast." Because "It is a disease that has been present in Korean for a long time and is transmitted locally for the most part."

But, like Hepatitis, AIDS is overwhelmingly transmitted locally, not from foreigners.

And AIDS has been with Koreans for as long as its been in the west. The first case of AIDS in Korea was 1985, in the US it was 1982. And Hep B hasn't bee with Korea and longer than the west.

You also say, "Hep B is far more common in Korea than Aids."

What country do you think is it where AIDS is more common than Hep B?

I think your reasoning turns on your main point: "the Korean government is simply reacting to public opinion from the people who vote: Korean citizens."

So, as far you are concerned, reason and facts have no place in the debate? The policy is just: give the people what they want? No matter what?

Anonymous said...

Correction: First line in above post should read:

You said, "Aids is a different beast" from Hep B. Because Hep B "is a disease that has been present in Korean for a long time and is transmitted locally for the most part."

Anonymous said...

Oh boy....

Here we go.

Did I go and become emotional and aggressive and insult you with comments like 'for you facts have no place'.

This exchange can then serve no more purpose. I have no interest in trading insults here. I find the debate on this issue to be more complex than some people seem to think.

Everyone is free to think what they want of course.


Anonymous said...


So for you: asking whether "reason and facts have [any] place in the debate" is being "aggressive and insult[ing]?"

I presented you with a series of facts and a reasoned analysis and asked you whether these should be considered in the debate or whether - as you put it - it's just about "the Korean government . . . reacting to public opinion from the people who vote: Korean citizens." In other words, as this blog would have it: Gusts of Popular Feeling which pass for public opinion . . .

And that's what you call "trading insults"?

Then you conclude with: "I find the debate on this issue to be more complex than some people seem to think."

And what level of complexity have you added to the debate?

If it's complex then let's here your thinking on it. Try to answer the questions put to you in the earlier posts. Enlighten us.

Or do as I'm guessing you probably will do, just walk away and offer some hackneyed excuse like "this exchange can then serve no more purpose" because you never really had much to add in the first place.

But hey, I'm game, prove me wrong.