Embassies bar help for teachers’ visas
Foreign English teachers in Korea may not be able to depend on their embassies for help in securing criminal record clearances required under new E-2 visa regulations that go into effect tomorrow.
At least seven embassies in Korea have told the Justice Ministry that they cannot provide the record checks for their citizens locally, a move that could mean long delays or expensive trips back to their home countries for foreign English teachers.
Despite the thumbs down from embassy officials to the request for cooperation, the ministry said yesterday that it will not ease the new regulations.
The new policy requires applicants for the E-2 visa to provide detailed criminal and health records before receiving a new or renewed visa, documents that were not required previously except for those who applied through the Ministry of Education to work in public schools. The new rule means that teachers in language academies, or hagwon, also must secure the clearances.
The move is a direct response to the case of Christopher Paul Neil, a Canadian English teacher who taught in Korea before being arrested in Thailand in October on charges of sexually assaulting children.
Diplomats from the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa met with Justice Ministry officials on Dec. 10 to discuss the new regulations.
“We had the meeting to explain some details of the policy to the consuls and we also wanted to get responses from them on whether embassies in Korea can set up some sort of centralized system to provide the additional documents,” said Choi Nam-il, visa policy coordinator at the ministry. “The gist of the meeting was they told us they respect the policy, but the embassies cannot provide those services.”
Embassies, including those of the U.S. and New Zealand, either have already been providing or will offer E-2-related information on their local Web sites.
While D-Day is tomorrow, the agency granted a three-month grace period for current E-2 visa holders to give them more time to prepare the necessary documents, according to the agency’s Web site.
Because the embassies do not provide such services here in Korea, the new guidelines are likely to send E-2 visa holders back home to secure documents unless their countries provide the service online or by mail.
Before the change, teachers could go to a neighboring country to renew their visas and re-enter Korea without providing additional documents.
According to the agency, the change will affect 17,200 foreign teachers ― about 11,000 of them from the U.S. and Canada ― and any who apply for visas in the future. In addition, the local language academies who hire 90 percent of the current E-2 visa holders will be hit, as they may have to bear the cost of the measure in the highly competitive market for hiring teachers.
“If the consuls and the Justice Ministry haven’t reached some sort of compromise, then this is going to be a big problem for us,” said Yoon Ji-young, head of the instructor support team at Pagoda Academy Inc., a major language school. “We were led to believe that the embassies would eventually accommodate the change. I had the impression that the FBI branch in Korea would help the United States Embassy get criminal records for their nationals.”
But according to the Justice Ministry’s Choi, neither the FBI nor two U.S. Embassy officials who attended the meeting warmed to that idea.
“I just don’t understand why they cannot make some exceptions to accommodate the needs of their own nationals,” Choi said. “In Korea, criminal records can be easily obtained online. But they don’t have a centralized system.”
The U.S. Embassy said yesterday in response to a query that “The Embassy’s American Citizen Services office is continuing to discuss the new E-2 requirements with Korean government officials.”
New Zealand Consul Peter Nunan said that although the embassy in Korea cannot provide the service, New Zealanders can obtain criminal records by mail. “It will take a little more than 20 days,” he said.
“The question is who will pay the additional cost?” said Yoon, the instructor support team head at Pagoda. “Some private language schools will pay on behalf of instructors, others will ask the instructors to pay. The already steep competition among private language schools will become worse because of the heightened cost ... But the eventual losers will be consumers, who will end up paying extra.”
By Lee Yang-kyoung Staff Reporter [email@example.com]