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No More Under The Table Jobs

Writing about the recent visa changes in Korea, I brought up the topic of “illegal teachers” working under the table jobs. Actually I promised to return to the topic of: what would work, as far as reducing the number of undocumented workers in the context of EFL?

I should start by saying – I don’t know! This is a blog, though, not a public policy journal, so here’s my possibly-freakish opinion.

The dynamics of undocumented EFL work are not unlike the dynamics of undocumented work in, say the US. Complicated. I think the idea that there is a law that would “fix” the problem – without creating all sorts of other unwanted consequences – is just not correct. I suspect it is rare for person to be working illegally without the employer being aware of it at some level, and without the employer benefiting in at least some sense.

Consequences for both the teacher and the employer might go a long way here. Making it harder to enter the country as a tourist? Maybe. But I’ve also wondered – why it sometimes seems so easy not to follow the rules.

I started thinking about it more after I asked a class: how do you feel – or what do you do – when someone cuts in line?

“Annoyed” was the vocab word I was going for, but they didn’t say that.

Most people didn’t say they felt “a little angry, or irritated” at all. It sounded like they didn’t really mind that much. They thought the person might have a reason. One girl told us she did get upset, and she extended her annoyance to the cashier or whoever allowed the person to cut in line…but she had grown up in another region.

As you might have predicted, my response is – I sure do feel annoyed! My head doesn’t actually implode or anything, but I don’t like it. I wait in line, even if I’m in a hurry or don’t want to, and so others should too. That’s the point of a line.

The more I thought about it though, the more I realized other things work like that too: not because we’re deathly afraid of the consequences of not following them, but because we believe in having the same rules for everyone, and see it as unfair to bend them. If you submit an application for a job or academic program and make a mistake with documents or send it too late? Too bad.

Back to the country in question: when I made a mistake on an official form, no one insisted I fill out a new one. In fact the cashier gave me White Out. One time in a rush, I asked the tram driver to let me out between stops at a stoplight. He considered for a moment and obliged. These things aren’t “unfair” – in fact many of us would call them instances of kindness.

I don’t mean to say that this following of rules is wholly good or wholly bad in either case; I think it’s just a different way of looking at things. It certainly doesn’t mean working illegally is okay, but I think some of the time at least, it explains why procedures don’t get followed. And that is not going to change with one law or policy.