Korea: Envoys Criticize Teaching-Visa Rule

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Jan 21 14:23:50 UTC 2008

    *Envoys Criticize Teaching-Visa Rule*

By Yoon Won-sup, Kang Shin-who
Staff Reporters

Foreign envoys whose countries adopt English as an official language
criticize what they call Korea's discriminative visa regulations against
foreign English teachers. Korea allows English teaching or E-2 visas to only
native-English speakers from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom,
Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland.

The envoys said the ``narrow-minded'' visa policy prevents Koreans from
developing English proficiency in a more efficient and cheaper way. They
also argue it is against international norm of equal treatment for all.

Last week, Pakistani Ambassador Murad Ali sent a letter to Justice Minister
Chung Soung-jin, urging the Seoul government to allow qualified Pakistanis
the English teaching visa.

``The condition of being a `native speaker' may please be removed so that a
level playing field is offered to the competitors from Pakistan,'' he said
in the letter.

He also said that the regulation violates the World Trade Organization (WTO)
rules (Article II of GATS), which mandate most-favored-nation (MFN)
treatment to all WTO members.

Philippine Ambassador Susan Castrence said it is bizarre that Korea does not
allow Filipinos the visa even though an increasing number of Koreans go to
the Philippines to study English.

She said that 1,312 Philippino teachers taught many subjects including
English at all various levels in schools in many other countries such as the
United States in 2007.

``Even the native-English speaking United States gets teachers from the
Philippines, and why not Korea,'' she said. ``You will be solving the dearth
of English teachers with Philippine teachers.''

The envoys said in unison that Korea seems to be a rare country which gives
English teaching visas based on nationality rather than qualification. For
example, neighboring countries such as Japan and China issue the visa to
qualified foreigners regardless of their nationality.

Singaporean Ambassador Chua Thai Keong, who witnessed Asian English teachers
in Japan during his tenure there, said that Korea needs to be ``racially
blind'' to get the best teachers. ``You can't solve the problem by limiting
choices,'' he added.

The ambassadors said the introduction of English teachers from their
countries would save Korea a lot of money earmarked for English education
and would not cause social problems because they share common Confucian

The Justice Ministry left open the possibility for change in the regulation
though it has not responded to the envoys' request yet.

Kim Young-geun, an immigration official said, ``The visa regulation can be
revised, depending on public opinion and the minister's decision. But
basically, we don't allow English teaching visas to foreigners who come from
nations where, although English is used as an official language, it is not
the native tongue.''

According to visa regulations, only native English-speaking nationals with a
bachelor's degree or above are eligible for the English teaching visa. The
Justice Ministry issues the visa to non-native English-speakers only in
exceptional cases.

Should the regulation is revised, schools both pubic and private will likely
hire English teachers from the Asian countries because senior educators
including Seoul's top educator are positive about the Asian English

In a recent interview with The Korea Times, Kong Jeong-taek, superintendent
of Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, who has authority to determine
the number of foreign teachers in Seoul schools, said it is time for Korean
schools to open the door to Asian English teachers.

However, many private language institutions and parents remain negative
about the Asian English teachers mainly due to their pronunciation.

``It would not be the right English education if Filipinos or Indians teach
our young children with a bad accent,'' said Jeun Eun-ja, spokesman of the
National Association of Parents for Cham-Education.

Kim Min-suk, spokeswoman of JungChul Language School, said that her school
does not employ Asian English teachers because she believes the students
prefer Caucasians. About 99 percent of teachers are white and the rest are
Korean-Americans, she added.

Asian teachers proficient in English may have image problems in getting
wider recognition from students, according to a parent of a high-school
student in Goyang City, Gyeonggi Province.

Meanwhile, Indian Ambassador Nagesh Rao Parthasarthi stressed that not
accent but communication is more important than anything else when it comes
to English education.

``What is important now is to find a way to teach our children English in
the most effective way and also ensuring good values for money,'' he said.
``Having an accent only means knowing one more language. Your English is
mainly to communicate effectively.''

yoonwonsup at koreatimes.co.kr
kswho at koreatimes.co.kr
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