Korea Visa Changes

In the wake of the case of an accused child abuser who had been working in Korea and fled to Thailand (recently caught by interpol), Korea has unveiled a slew of new laws for English teachers. Hat tip to EFL Geek for the latest on all this (this post and this post – and their links – specifically).

The gist of the case was that the man had abused some twelve children in Vietnam and Cambodia, and then gone on to work in Korea. He had not submitted the results of a police check to his employer in Korea, and is said to have bragged about this on Dave’s ESL Café as a posting member.

The new laws would put several new requirements on teachers, most likely only those applying for visas for the first time or changing employers; teachers renewing their current visa or with certain categories of visa (including those who are married to Korean citizens) would not be affected – though this is not totally clear. The laws would require these teachers to interview and apply for the visas in their home country. There are also clause which apparently make it easier to deport and/or blacklist teachers who are not “all that they should be”.

Please keep in mind that this is a brief overview of the regulations, and based on my reading of a few web pages, including an unofficial translation of the Korean law which I read on EFL Geek’s site. If it is not already clear, I am no expert on Korean law or employment regulations generally – but having worked in the industry and gone through the process in a handful of other countries, I have a context to put it in, plenty of opinions, and an interest in what others who are more familiar with the situation have to say about it.

All of these changes – so what? Here’s why they matter:

EFL Geek pointed out that the laws will take effect very soon after being created; it could be the case that teachers who were expecting no such requirement will need to produce documents which take a long time to procure. Specifically, if some who are already teaching in Korea need to come up with criminal record checks in a month, and it takes three months to get them from their respective home countries, this is no good.

I can add to the discussion that I have obtained an FBI Certificate of No Criminal Record from abroad and it is no easy task. Obviously mine is for a US citizen and I don’t know what certificates from other countries entail…but this one was not pretty.

[One surprising aspect is that you need to be fingerprinted. The fingerprints must be taken correctly – rolled properly – but it’s not the case that you can walk into any police station abroad and ask them to fingerprint you. In some places, police don’t take fingerprints in ink; in others, police or other authorities are not allowed to fingerprint just anyone. Why? Who knows, they just aren’t and won’t, and to be fair it is hard to complain too much as it is not really their responsibility, even if it makes no apparent sense. It is possible to get your report expedited, but you really do have to follow the detailed instructions to a tee, and if you don’t, heaven help you because no single person in the US can sidestep the bureacracy as they can in, for example, Eastern Europe.]

Will more regulations actually keep out criminals?

Perhaps some – and as EFL Geek also pointed out, it is reasonable to ask for a criminal record check for teachers, especially those working with kids. One irony though is that the accused did not have a criminal record anyway, so even if he had gotten the check, that in itself would not have tipped off the authorities. It’s hard to argue with requiring a police record check, but there is some danger in creating a false sense of security.

Will more regulations minimize illegal teaching?

One theory is that the increased documentation burden will dissuade all but the most serious teachers from coming to Korea; those who are interested in a free ride and don’t care about teaching or the legality of their situation will not go through the hassle.

The other side is that those who don’t care about legality will just plod on ahead till they are deported, and those with a serious interest will more and more find other places which provide a more hospitable and less bureaucratic working environment.

What do you think? See my forecast here.