Proposed visa rules threaten teacher crunch

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From the Korea Herald — didn’t get the source url since I saw this on Facebook.

Workers in English education are worried that a new set of rules for work visas to be introduced in December will lead to a teacher shortage.

All new working visa applicants will have to supply criminal record checks and health checks, including drugs tests, in addition to existing requirements. E-2 candidates will also have to be interviewed at their nearest consulate. People on F-series visas are expected to be unaffected.

Kim Soo-nam, deputy director of Seoul`s immigration office, told The Korea Herald he expected an announcement would be made within the week. “We expect the regulations to come into effect one month later, namely in mid-December,” he said, stressing that exact details were not yet finalized.

Kim said he expected the new system to be inexpensive. “All the new documents they will have to present will be issued by their own governments. We don`t expect that the expense will be that high.”

On the face of it, the policy is reasonable. After all, fake degrees are a major concern in Korea, and criminal checks on those working with children are a common practice in the West.

The worry is that implementation is coming too soon after the announcement. The process is sure to take more time, causing a temporary teacher crunch while extra documentation is collected.

Kim said there had been no earlier announcement because they “needed time to consider possible pitfalls and problems that could arise.

“We usually try to have a one-month period for careful examination of the guidelines,” he said.

The ministry seems to be somewhat sensitive to initial concerns. The one-month notice period is more than the initial press release had implied.

But it may not be enough. According to the U.S.`s FBI website, a countrywide criminal record check for that country takes about four months. And that`s before you apply for the visa.

“In my opinion, basically I agree with the new laws,” says Kevin Choi, the director of English Harvard, a hagwon in Seoul. But there are a few problems.

“Right now it`s very difficult to hire teachers. It takes too long,” he says. “It will take even longer in the future.”

“I think after December it will take four to five months to hire teachers.”

That`s a long time in an industry with a high turnover of staff. It is not always hagwon`s fault that teachers embark on “midnight runs,” in which instructors flee the country without warning. But it is directors and co-teachers who cover the lessons, and have to bear the brunt of irresponsible employees.

There are concerns such pressures will push hagwon into hiring teachers illegally – on tourist visas, for example.

To counter this, the Ministry of Justice has said they will introduce tougher penalties on anyone breaking immigration rules.

They have to catch them first, which might be easier said than done. It is common knowledge that illegal teaching in various forms is rife in Korea.

But Kim says they will work hard to make sure the law is not broken. “We will cooperate with all relevant organizations to crack down on those offenders,” he asserted.

They have also suggested it will be easier for teachers already working here to get new visas. These teachers will require checks in due course, when they need to renew their visas.

There might be beneficial side-effects: Good teachers would be better able to find good schools – and leave bad ones. Currently teachers have little power to change schools before their contract is up, and require permission from their employer.

Kim said that F-series visa holders would not be required to produce extra documents: “Those who are spouses of Korean nationals or those who have permanent resident status here in Korea will be treated as Koreans. They will not be affected.”

The new laws will likely less affect public schools, which already require criminal checks and health records.

Andrew Wright, who works at a Gyeonggi Province high school, thought the requirement was reasonable. “I would expect that if a Korean wanted to work in a school in the U.K., a similar system should apply,” he explained.

Public schools also usually hire teachers further in advance than private institutes.

“Working for a public school meant that I had a longer timescale to get all the forms and relevant information sorted,” says Wright. But he points out that hagwon often work at a much faster turnover.

“A quick check on recruiting websites shows that there are plenty of jobs in hagwon where the job will begin in 6 weeks,” he says. “Hagwon may find themselves having to readjust how they hire native speakers.”

English camps, which often use C4 visas, may also find it hard to fill places. People may not want to go through the hassle of a police check for such short term work.

Wright also faced problems because of not living in his home country. “I discovered that you cannot apply for the criminal check by post due to database protection,” he says referring to British privacy laws. “I was working in Poland. In this respect my experience will be similar to many if not the majority of EFL teachers.”

Since professional EFL teachers do not usually work – and therefore live – in their native country, the new requirements could discourage professional teachers.

However, Kim said that he expected that “those who want to get a visa, but live in other nations will not have to go back to their own nations to get visas to work in Korea.

“We will include some measures for them so that they can get their visa in a third nation when they are away from their native countries,” he explained.

Indeed, many question the need to go to a Korean consulate at all.

“The consulate interviews would create unnecessary, difficult, and costly situations for some foreign teachers,” says Gregor Burgess, a teacher at a Seoul University, whose hometown is 1,000 km from his nearest consulate.

There is a certain amount of opacity surrounding the purpose of the interview. Kim says it will cover “basic things, the submission of required documents.”

One theory is that it will draw on local knowledge to check the validity of credentials. This is something of a capitulation in terms of the effectiveness of the current checking system, and it`s unclear why the documents would need to be checked in the presence of the applicant.

“I`m definitely very much in favor of checks being improved,” says Burgess. “But I would hate to see the government deter or make it difficult for good teachers to teach in Korea while improving checks.”

By Paul Kerry


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