Teachers at Confucius Institutes lose E-2 visas

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Teachers at Confucius Institutes lose E-2 visas

The Ministry of Justice has suspended the issuance and extension of one-year E-2 language teaching visas for Chinese lecturers staffing Confucius Institutes at universities.

The 23 Confucius Institutes countrywide are in disarray and Chinese language students are experiencing difficulty finding opportunities to study. The first Confucius Institute in the world was established in Korea in November 2004. As of 2014, there were 23 operating in Korea with over 480 worldwide.

The Confucius Institute is a non-profit educational organization founded by the Chinese government to promote Chinese language and culture.

Five prospective Chinese language lecturers at the South Jeolla Confucius Institute were unable to receive their visas while another was denied an extension. With one individual leaving the country on March 31, this leaves only four of the intended 10.

Woosung University cut five classes when six of their lecturers were unable to enter the country. Yonsei University resorted to procuring staff from cram schools to fulfill student demand, hiring them at a higher rate.

Teachers were dispatched to Korea from partner schools in China. There are now over 200 Chinese lecturers teaching in the 23 institutes in the country with a total of 6,000 prospective students in a given semester.

The classes are popular with students because the course fees of 119,000 won ($106) are half the cost of cram schools. Confucius Institutes also provide an opportunity for foreign language study at sister schools in China, tuition-free, to qualifying students for six months to a year.

When educational institutes such as foreign language cram schools hire foreign language lecturers, they receive approval for the E-2 visas by submitting a business license, cram school certificate and employment contract.

Unlike lecturers at private cram schools, those in Confucius Institutes receive a salary from the Chinese government and the employment contract is also arranged with Chinese universities.

“The system for the employment contract as well as payment of salaries does not meet the criteria of the E-2 visa,” the Justice Ministry announced, explaining that this type of employment is considered illegal because salaries are paid from China. This is the first time in 10 years the matter has come up, but the intent now is to demonstrate violations will no longer be ignored.

The Justice Ministry has said enforcement is unrelated to China’s retaliation for Korea’s decision to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system.

“We informed individual universities and Confucius Institutes,” said an official at the Justice Ministry, “that we will have regular issuance of E-2 visas provided employment contracts are signed and salaries are paid [by them].”

However, universities and Confucius Institutes say hastily reforming the structure of employment is difficult as Chinese universities are regulated by the Chinese government.

Chinese universities must receive approval from China’s education ministry and Chinese universities shoulder the burden of national health insurance, unemployment insurance, national pensions and occupational health and safety insurance.

Universities are now concerned about a protracted teacher drought. Requesting the cooperation of Chinese authorities is also difficult due to the installation of the Thaad system.

The Chinese government could pay the salaries to Korean universities, but the Chinese government holds the position that direct payment is a rule. Universities are requesting a temporary grace period.

“Laws and rules are important,” said Kim Hyun-cheol, the head of the Yonsei University Confucius Institute, “but both countries’ governments must minimize damage by making concessions.”

He added, “If the visa issue is not resolved, operating Confucius Institutes across the country will be difficult up until the end of the year.”

BY SHIN JIN-HO [hwang.hosub@joongang.co.kr]

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