South Korea’s Prejudiced Immigration Laws on Hiring Asian Teachers Part 1

South Korea’s Prejudiced Immigration Laws on Hiring Asian Teachers Part 1

VOL. XVIII NO. 9 (Dec. 2-12, 2014)

“Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of    freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” -Pierre Berton

Theoffensive acts of Korean school employers are continuously swellingrealities that put every aspiring language educator into a web of discriminatory indifferencedepriving his liberty to prosper even in his very own country. These are predicaments which   call the attention of concern government officials to create a stable symbiosis between the South Korean government and the Philippines where both parties can economically and academically benefit out of aharmonious educative process in a more considerate recruitment process. A report from British Broadcasting Company (BBC) says that it is cheaper for South Koreans to study English in the Philippines implying inexpensive fees as the main reason for their massive arrival in the Philippines. It is so disappointing that they turn blind to what theybenefit from Filipino English teachers who are being manipulated to endure underpaid status from some Korean employers backed by Filipino counterparts in operating   an extremely commercialized education in the country. Moreover, these are employers who less conform with the   labor standards and in some cases, without necessary papers to operate. The  previous  complaints  of  Filipino  English language  teachers  in the city  that  reached  the  Department of Labor  and  Employment (DOLE)  manifested  the  plights of  teachers  who have  been  confronted  with these conflicts but have stood courage to deliver their sides. Yet in the present, the leniency of our country’s laws allowscontinuousflocking of South Korean English learners in almost throughout the country. It is an irony how South Korean immigration laws deal with Filipino English teachers back in the peninsula. These arematters whichshould be addressed with reasons before rendering judgments.

Testimonies by those who experienced

The followinggathered astoundingtestimonies of Filipinos in South Korea (SK) express how very discriminating;South Korean managers are in treating Filipino teachers.” I was rejected many times just because I’m not a native speaker.” “Managers in South Korea just don’t want to hire Filipino teachers because of their common misconceptions about Filipino English accent.” It isconsidered afallacy because many Filipinos can elucidate better methodologies of teaching over many native speakers. “We have to accept the fact that many Koreans have prejudice against Filipino teachers, and most Korean managers would rather hire a native speaker or someone who looks like a native speaker.” “An academy where I used to work as a part-time hired a Russian, who could barely speak English, to teach English. She was hired because she possesses Caucasian features. I was hired to assist her in class and was asked to pretend I was a Korean -born and raised in a native English-speaking country.”It is disturbing assessmentprocess that springs from looks of applicants over their teaching performances“I have faced many closed doors when looking for teaching posts. It is not easy because Koreans hold certain perceptions of what foreign English teachers should look and sound. If you don’t fit their perceptions, then you are simply not qualified” to teach English.

Eventhe Asia-Pacific ConnectionsCompany thathires native speakers for SKhas its shares of   commenting over SK’s offensiveemploymentpractices of which they report. “Most schools are looking for people between the ages of 23 and 32. Men over about 40 and women over 45 have little chance of being placed at a reputable private school through the services of a recruiter; however, many public schools will hire teachers up to the age of about 50.”This is something to recognize.Public schools have the inclinations to choose effective teachers because it implies that with this age, we expect varied experiences, serious and dedicated teaching commitments andexpected satisfactory outputs.“It is very difficult to place ethnic Asian applicants. When some Koreans see an ethnic Asian, they automatically assume the person is not a native speaker of English.This is an erroneous impression because many Filipinos are born and raised in English native- speaking countries where they have acquired native speaker status. “Koreans tend to view race and nationality as inseparable, many of them do not think of non-European Americans or Canadians as “real” Canadians or Americans or native speakers of English. “Korean employers in the children’s market will not hire non-native speakers of English, no matter how good their English is. A Russian native speaker who holds a doctorate in English-Language Teaching is going to be a better English teacher than an American English native speaker with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, but the native speaker will get the job in Korea.” The main purpose of teaching at this point becomes deceived. “The quality of English teaching and learning would improve dramatically if Koreans agree to hire some of the many Filipinos who hold degrees in early childhood education and speak excellent English, but a 20-something blonde North American woman with no teaching experience and an unrelated degree will be preferred.” Koreans are fixated on accent and will sometimes blame a native speaker’s “accent,” for their inability to understand spoken English. “Standard.” North American accents are strongly preferred by most employers. This makes Australians, New Zealanders, Brits, and Irish applicants more difficult to place. Even regional North Americans’ accents can be difficult. “

NewsmanKang Shin Wo of The Korean Times reports in 2007 that overseas citizens in SK tried to challenge the country’s immigration laws. According to his report, one Angelie Sawyer commentedthat it is a   form of racial discrimination -issuing English teaching visas for the mere reason people are white rather than verifying their qualifications as professional teachers. Sawyer and her husband Michael   that year filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Korea against Ministry of Education (MOE),Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education and MEST agency recruiting foreign English teachers of which they allegedly pointed out that the current language teacher visa regulations in SK discriminatorily violate World Trade Organization (WTO)rules. There have been no updates for its status till this writing.

Reflecting these sentiments that made Asian teachers uneasy and desperate, it is tantamount to saying that if applicants are from America and other western nations where English is the mother tongue, schools don’t require work experience or a relevant university specialization to be able to teach English in this peninsula.These do not allude only to Filipino experiences in SK but also in the Philippines where lots of Korean schools are unscrupulously being managed.

Peeking at the Nature of SK’s Immigration Law

Everyone’s opinion is right against such policy but their law states so which becomes inviolable unless revamped by the same authority-making bodies in SK. Korea’s immigration law requires native English speakers whichhas excluded many qualified and competent non-native English teachers from obtaining good teaching positions. Citizensfrom recognized English-speaking nations like theUnited States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa are qualified to have E-2 visa to teach in SK.Early in 2007, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Singapore have criticized the Korean government’s alleged “discriminating” working visa policy for teachers coming from non-native English speaking countries. Report says that these countries denounced Seoul’s “narrow-minded” visa regulation as it prevents Korean students from developing English skills in a cheaper and efficient way.They   say it is against international norms of equal treatment for all. Aside from the Philippines, other countries named as “ineligible” to teach English in Korea are Kenya, Singapore, and Malaysia, Pakistan and India and even China’s Hong Kong city. According to this report, immigration authorities will have to revise the rules so that English teachers from India, Singapore and the Philippines are able to come to Korea. Revisions of the immigration law as earlier suggested never materialized till today.

Elusive Negotiation

Director Kuem Yong-han, of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST)had made a communication to the Filipino embassy in order to invite English teachers from the country, but  according to him, thePhilippine embassy  told they were afraid of a brain drain of talented teachers which contradicts the fact that Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Luis Cruz discussed with Commissioner ChooKyu-ho of the Korean Immigration Office the possibility of revising the law in order for Filipino teachers to gain entry into SK.In response, Cho said that South Korea is considering extending the scope of the law since its public schools are in need of more English teachers which until now remains to be seen.

Our country’s Greater Manila Area (GMA) Network news onJuly 2008 reports that the Philippines had been asking SK to reconsider its education policy to accommodate Filipino English teachers in their language schools. Former Philippine Ambassador to Korea Susan Castrence earlier said she finds the policy “bizarre” despite the fact that thousands of Koreans flock to the Philippines every year to study English.She further recollects that even the native-speaking United States recruits teachers from the Philippines where about 1,312 Filipino teachers are currently teaching English and other subjects in the US since 2007.

Emergence of Opportunistic Tendencies

With the kind of law Koreans have,“businessmen or “educators” who operateprivate academies in SK have taken chances based from their stern immigration laws regarding the restrictions of educators from other countries who plan to work in the peninsula. Most Korean managers of schools and academies had been commercializing education. They favor their current immigration law because it becomes a reason for them to increase fees for further gain.As a consequence emanating from the law on  teachers’ recruitment, Korean business  minded individuals  start to build academies in a country  they  have discriminated for teacher employment in order toexploit their   fellow Koreans through  the fees they demand from children’s parents as well as shortchanging thestudents of their promises to “quality”  learning  and services. In some cases, theymanipulate Asian counterparts in business operation to obtain legal documents; other Koreans do it through marriage with Philippine residents to legalize their residencies. Operating academies in the Philippines display discriminatory employment among Filipino applicants. They become particular with the age and physical appearance, unmindful of teachers’ benefits till alarmed by the Philippine laws when complaints are filed against them. They would prefer good looking female nursing graduates over unattractivebut dedicated teacher education applicants with good credentials to teach in order to match the preferences of male Korean clients-an unusual recruitment observed pattern. Not to frustrate but to market more students, they have neglected the strict observance of classroom disciplinary measures culturally practiced by theircountry’s educational system. Having been an exchange teacher in SK, we knocked the heads of students, whipped hands because of unruly behaviors which are sanctioned by the MOEthat always ensure  corresponding disciplinary measures  which  is  so  contradictory in academies here because teachers  arebeing  advised by managers  to  tolerate  the misbehaviors of their  students. It is so strange to see sleeping students during class hours and worst, you see maladjusted individuals who should need special education rather than being immersed in regular classes of normal children. Teachers who complain regarding their students’ behaviors are commonly ignored or dismissed. These happen because Korean students who misbehave can put the blames to teachers by fabricating accusations.In other words, most managers are student-centered as a part of their marketing strategy.As acollective consequence, poor Filipino English teachers of Korean academies in the Philippines do not only teach but become “baby sitters” enduring the ill-mannered behaviors displayed by students for unregulated fees just to earn daily.The Philippines becomes a zone of Korean students’ temporary freedom and comforts from educational disciplinary measures. SK’s discriminatory acts have extended its exposures in the Philippine soil. All these anomalies constitute a general unhinged image to all South Koreans.

South Korean students increasing admittance in the country is an implication that SK parents recognized the English proficiency of Filipino teachers  which is opposing  to the  alibi  released  by  Yoon Ho-sang, Senior Supervisor at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SOME)  during his past discussion with  Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Luis Cruz when he supposed that  Korean parents and students want to learn English from native speakers, adding that schools might not want to hire Filipino teachers.

Most SKparents have still yet   to combatthe wrong notionsof having native speakers as effective English teachers for their children. Their illiteracy to the language make them incapable to judge how effective teachers are but for parents who have been professionally educated and capable to manipulate the language, can judge their children’s desirable language competencies out of Filipinoteachers.In CheonanBuk Middle School under SK’s Ministry of Education, parents from this public school welcome Filipino teachers. Together with my colleague at Pines City National High School (PCNHS), we were warmly treated with respect by virtue of our very satisfactory teaching performances. Parents and the school administration even filed an extension of our stay despite the immigration law’s constraints.  Education managers knew the fact that our colleges and universities produced best graduates to teach the international language but because of commercial purposes, they don’t drumbeat this good news in their country as a form of campaign to persuade the authorities for a new change of hiring policies but instead they keep it themselves for self-vestedinterests. It could be perceived that once visa laws   are revamped by immigration authorities to hire Asians teachers, employment breakthroughs in hiring will be realized. Ifteachers inthe Philippines will be dispatched in South Korea, privateacademies or schools operating in this country or in their country will slowly reform if not to crumble. Anorganizational operation crumbles when personal gains are the priorities.

We have to recognizethat native speaking countries demand a higher pay of which the managers take chance but when immigration laws change like the Middle East recruitment system, equality of pay will prevail and managers will slowly change its scheme patterning hiring policies tothe rest of the public and private schools who will hire combined nationalities to comprise workforce from different countries around the world. Thoseacademies functioning in the Philippines and in SK itself  may be requested to change their labor force standards because of the influx of teachers from the Philippines, Pakistan , India,Singapore among other countries  to the Korean markets. There will be less Koreans to learn foundation English  in the Philippines because  the services of teaching will be in proximity to their country of origin  which cuts parents’ expenses in sending their  children overseas. Should there be SK schools or academies existing that time, they will come to a point of shifting their operational standards which should conform to the country’s regulatory policies avoiding possible anomalies.

What our country needs today in the service for the Filipino nation is to challenge the laws of the Korean government on visa policy for deserving professional individuals to apply as teachers.Perhaps when it is done,the disagreeable perceptions of immigration officials and other SK government bodies regarding Filipinos andother Asians will metamorphose into a broader understanding emancipating them from an ignorance that had longed imprisoned their independentwisdom to judge how Asian teachers truly perform to educate. /marvinwacnaglidawan@yahoo.com