Was the Deportation of Teachers Holding E-2 Visas Justified?
Foreigners who teach subjects other than English while holding E-2 visas are at risk of being deported due to a new policy introduced by the Korean Ministry of Education. Several academies have been investigated by the immigration office and faced closure when it was revealed that they had employed foreign teachers with E-2 visas to instruct other subjects.
In May 2017, the Korea Immigration Service carried out raids on the Canadian British Columbia International School (CBIS) in Seoul. As a result, several foreign teachers faced deportation over the violation of visa requirements. To be precise, the violation was caused by the wrong visa type: instructors were working under E-2 visas, which allows language instruction, while they were actually giving lessons on mathematics and other subjects.
Taking a deeper look reveals that the teachers were caught in a bureaucratic trap. Even though the E-2 visa type is for language instruction, the problem is that hagwons (private educational centers), including CBIS, are allowed to apply for this type of visa only. Teachers mentioned that the academy was not able to sponsor the necessary E-7 visa type. What is more surprising is that teaching subjects in English under the E-2 visa type is a common practice among hagwons.
The real problem lies in the fact that even though teachers are the apparent violators, they are not the source of the problem. On one side, there are hagwons that are not able to sponsor the E-7 visa; and on the other, there is the Korea Immigration Service, tracking instructors down for the violation of visa regulations. If left unchecked, the CBIS case will not be the last scandal for the Korea Immigration Service. There are plenty of schools that work in such a situation, meaning that there are even more international teachers who are under the risk of deportation.
So far, the only optimal solution is to allow hagwons to sponsor the necessary visa types to avoid such situations in the future. But there is an opinion that the real target of these operations by the government are the hagwons themselves. If it is true, then deporting teachers seems like a punishment that is too strict. Sure, they violated the regulation, but deportation is not the way to punish the teachers, considering the fact that it is the academies that probably applied for the visas.
Instead, the immigration service could impose a fine or a issue a warning, instead of deportation. They did not commit any serious crime against Korea or its citizens to be punished to this severity. Deportation will jeopardize the plans and hopes of those teachers who were unfortunate enough to be the target of the immigration service.
On the other hand, it is necessary to understand that not everything is white or black. Teachers arrived to CBIS without knowing the key legal detail that CBIS is technically not a school. Teachers reported that they were told CBIS was an accredited international school, but the crackdown revealed that it wasn’t. It seems that the hagwon clearly knew it could not sponsor the E-7 visa, but still decided to try to find a loophole. As a result, the hagwon is going to be closed. Such maneuvers seem to be careless, to say the very least. An educational center has a wide range of stakeholders: teachers, students, and their parents. Ignoring the regulation was risky and not a justifiable action.
There can be many opinions on who is right and who isn’t. Nevertheless, the impact of the actions taken is irreversible. Even if the ban is lifted and apologies are given, no one will be able to compensate for the damages. The best everyone can do is to learn from the sad case of CBIS. The immigration service has to give less strict punishments for these violations, and the government has to finally come up with a plausible solution for the hagwon legal status, and hagwons themselves have to understand that any action to bypass the law shall bring forth the wrath of the justice system. Unless the problem is fixed, CBIS will not be the last school to undergo such problems.