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.
Avalon English Schools. Ewas English Academy. Jungchul English Schools. These are the names of major English school franchises that will greet you on big, flashy billboards as you walk along the streets of Seoul — a testament to Korea’s thriving English-learning scene. English proficiency exams are required by more and more jobs and institutions of higher education, supplementing the booming English industry. With such a frenzied enthusiasm for English among the Korean population, it comes as no surprise that native English speakers are highly in demand from the recruiters of many English academies in Korea. As a result, most English teachers in Korea lead rather stable and comfortable lives with sizable pays and numerous benefits. However, that was no longer the case for 14 unfortunate Canadian teachers at Canadian British Columbia International School (CBIS), as they were forcefully deported from the country when authorities concluded that they had been working under the wrong visa the whole time.
Many foreigners who come to Korea to teach English obtain an E-2 visa, which is issued to foreigners solely for the purpose of teaching a language. The reason for the deportation of the 14 Canadian teachers at CBIS was that they were found teaching subjects such as science and history, which require an E-7 visa to teach. From a strictly legal perspective, their deportation seems reasonable enough; they applied for the wrong visa, so they don’t have the right of abode. One of the teachers’ justification was that teaching math and science in English is also a part of teaching a foreign language, and I agree with their sentiment to an extent since English is not just limited to grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. But such individualized interpretations of definitions are not acceptable in the eyes of the law.
Their deportation is perhaps justifiable strictly in the legal sense, but it is bizarre that the teachers’ visa applications were accepted in the first place. Why did the government issue visas to the teachers only to deport them later? Shouldn’t the work descriptions on the visa applications have raised an obvious red flag? Perhaps the immigration service is lax in doing its job or is being unnecessarily capricious. It is hard to comment on what exactly transpired; regardless, the government should recognize that it was its shortcoming to accept the incorrect visa applications to begin with. That being so, deportation seems unjustifiably harsh — a grace period for the teachers to apply for a new visa would have been more apt.
But beyond the aforementioned problems, the deportation of the 14 teachers brings to light a more serious, underlying issue with the government’s policies regarding English alternative schools such as CBIS; English alternative schools are not recognized as schools but hagwons, which makes them unable to sponsor E-7 visas — the proper type of visa — for its teachers. The situation also makes us question the government’s intention behind abstaining from recognizing such institutions as official schools, and the reason why they suddenly decided to crack down on the teachers. Perhaps it is part of President Moon’s agenda to rid Korea of elite, private institutions, which he vowed to do upon inauguration, or perhaps other less-obvious factors are involved. But the reality is that a score of other English alternative schools remain to operate by employing teachers through this gray area of visa boundaries. 14 teachers’ livelihoods have already been forcefully uprooted and 160 students now have no school to attend anymore. The failure of the institutions to confront these underlying problems, and the government’s extreme punishment for these teachers will continue to displace more teachers and students. Other English-alternative schools and the government need to come together to find a way to stop this mess and make amends for those who have been unfairly victimized.