Sunday, March 29, 2009

Immigration gives E-2 visa extension to teacher who refuses health checks.

This will turn into quite the story. An excerpt from the Korea Times coverage:
Andrea Vandom, an English instructor at Chung-Ang University, visited the Suwon Immigration Office, Wednesday, to renew her status under the terms of the English-teaching visa rules.

But Vandom told The Korea Times that she had her visa extended ― even though she refused to submit papers on health checks, which are demanded under the regulations that govern the E2 visa. She only handed over criminal record documents to the authorities, she said.

This case appears to suggest that the immigration rules are being bent ― not applicable to those who complain strongly, she said.

Instead of producing documents showing HIV/AIDS and drug test results, she gave an immigration officer a letter.

It reads: ``Unfortunately, I will not be submitting the HIV/ AIDS test results or the tuberculosis drug test results that you have requested. These tests unreasonably discriminate against me as a foreigner living in Korea and are a violation of my human rights.''

In the letter, she also said that she has lived and worked in Korea for more than three years and does not understand why she is suddenly suspected of being a danger to Korean society.

``I have done nothing wrong, and yet the Korea Immigration Service wants to search my body. This is an invasion of my most private and personal rights and an affront to my human dignity,'' she said.

. . .
But the KIS refuted the allegations. Kim Young-keun, a KIS spokesperson, said the immigration office in Suwon had received all of the necessary documents to allow the organization to grant a renewal. ``It is impossible for us to grant a visa in violation of the regulations,'' he said.

But Vandom claimed the KIS denial is a fabrication. ``It is shocking that the immigration office is lying about this. Why would I give them that letter if I were submitting the HIV/AIDS and drug tests?'' she said.

Give the rest of the short article a read. On the one hand, news that immigration policy varies from office to office, and from officer to officer . . . well, isn't news at all. Immigration is notorious for its inconsistency and for its inability to provide basic information to foreign teachers with reliability. I know from both personal and anecdotal evidence that during visa-renewal processes immigration officers didn't even bother looking at required documents, to the annoyance of those who spent a lot of time and money to acquire them in light of hastily-implemented policies last year. I would like to see this turn into an issue of immigration officers once again unable to do their jobs and enforce the rules on the books, rather than a case of a sly English teacher pulling a fast one.

On the other, bringing up "human rights violation" has been an ill-advised choice of words among some commentors on, for example, The Marmot's Hole and ROK Drop. As is alluded to in the article, the language there is similar to what we've heard from the Association for Teachers of English in Korea, [edit: and from professor Benjamin Wagner], who filed a report with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea in February. From a February 4th press release:
“The current drug tests, HIV tests and criminal background checks are discriminatory,” said Tony Hellmann, ATEK’s Communications Director. “They reflect a mindset that foreign teachers are potentially dangerous because they are foreign.”

Current foreign language instructor (E-2) visa rules, which require a criminal background check, drug test and an HIV test, should be revised as they clearly discriminate on the basis of national origin, according to the filer of the report with NHRCK, law professor Benjamin Wagner of Kyunghee University. Non-citizen teachers are required to submit to these checks, but non-citizen ethnic Koreans, foreigners married to Koreans, and Korean citizens are not.

If I may inject some opinion and speculation here, apart from the newsworthy items, I'd like to say I'm curious on two main points. The first is that while I admit I'm unfamiliar with the norms of Korean journalism, I find it strange that they're reporting the teacher by name. Names are kept secret to avoid libel and defamation charges, since even reporting the truth can invite a lawsuit if that truth damages the reputation of the person. Just browse some of the other news stories on the KT site and see how many name names. Hell, not even the immigration officer in question was named. I suspect, though, that the teacher herself submitted everything for the story, which may explain why it's so one-sided; even what the immigration officer is alleged to have said comes second-hand.

The second is that the article doesn't make clear at all the teacher's association with ATEK. It is implied that she is working in tandem with them, even mimicking the wording of her complaint. By focusing the article on the teacher and the association---whose critics have gotten quite a bit of favorable press in the KT (1, 2)---the article becomes about a teacher doing wrong, and doing so as part of some movement, rather than an immigration officer not doing his job.

However, we shouldn't take the article at face value right away, and shouldn't trust a story in the media here too much, given the penchant for screwing up facts and quotations, for mistranslating things between English and Korean, or for outright manipulating events to depict a certain angle.

Foreigners are right to ask why the government is dreaming up new visa rules and regulations every few months when it is uncommitted to enforcing the ones it already has on the books. By calling out the teacher by name and by focusing on her line of reasoning the article is a debate on the merits of the "human rights violation" argument, rather than a reportage on the facts. It takes an easy swipe at a foreign teacher, instead of taking the swing at immigration policy and implementation we've been blogging about for years.


Tony H said...

Firstly, there is no relationship between Andrea Vandom and ATEK.

Second, ATEK never filed a report with the NHRCK. I assume you are referring to the report filed by law professor Benjamin Wagner.

--Tony Hellmann, ATEK Communications Director

Brian said...

We'll have to see why the teacher took the route she did, then.

Foreigner Joy said...

During my health check they looked at my teeth.

This was the only part of the testing that I found obscure and pointless.

Roboseyo said...

this comment at the hub of sparkle, if it's from someone in the know, sheds some light on Andrea's act.

Desiree Teacher said...

First: I do understand that they keep changing the visa requirements because they are discriminating against foreigners, but:

~Korea has a right to make sure the people they are letting into their country are not carrying illnesses that can affect their country. TB is a nasty disease, and while Americans are vaccinated for it at a young age, not all countries are.

~I don't know about other countries, but in America all jobs have the right to drug test their employees, as well as administer Hep C/HIV/Aids tests, depending on the job...

~Refusing to follow the requirements, which are a urine sample and a quick blood draw and a couple questions from the doctor, perpetuates that foreigners are hiding something.

Yes, she has been here for three years, but she could have illegal drugs here that she has been using, or she could have some communicable disease that they are trying to control... I don't agree that they should be so strict with the disease thing necessarily, but many people with these diseases don't watch out not to spread them well enough...

It's not like they are posting all of our medical history and personal information for the whole of Korea to see on some website.

While we hope this will make Koreans only look at the immigration office's lack of consistency, I'm afraid it will help confirm their idea that we are an immoral, dirty lot.

I have done everything I can to try and dispel this idea while I have been in this country, I think every foreigner has the responsibility to behave themselves while they are here. All countries have visa requirements, it doesn't matter how silly they are, you should follow them of not go to that country.

Brian said...

Desiree, thanks for the comment and the visit. I've said before that I don't have problems with having health checks and background checks. Hell, even at Wal-Mart I had to pass a drug test before starting. I wish there would be a little more consistency over here, so that I'm not submittin redundant paperwork. And I said on the blog and on the SeoulPodcast that Korea has the right to allow or reject anybody it pleases. Some foreigners are up in arms because *gasp* the school is concerned about the adults it allows to teach children.

Rob, that same comment was posted on The Marmot's Hole. It doesn't make me feel any better. The thing smacks of a teacher either (a) being a pawn for some law firm trying to make headlines, or (b) a teacher trying to see her own name in the newspaper but not understanding the impact it would have on, um, the rest of us here in the real world.

The dangers we present are unfairly trumped up, though, Desiree, as you know. This KT article SHOULD be about immigration officers not doing their jobs . . . if the KT or any other paper bothered to look at it, rather than simply running witih the case of one self-serving group, they would learn how widespread this is. All of us have had heard stories about immigration's inconsistent policies, and some have even experienced it themselves. Yes, Korea has every right to keep out whomever it wants for whatever reason, and as I said on the podcast (and which has made me unpopular with some) is that we really can't complain on that point. But, if people are going to run their mouths about keeping the children safe, then why aren't people getting upset about an immigration that refuses to enforce the rules it has on the books already? Why pick on the foreign teachers when it's the government's fault that we got in in the first place?

GFM Painting said...
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