According to the Korea Times, some are complaining that Korea’s visa rules favor ethnic Koreans, or gyopo, over non ethnic-Koreans by exempting the former from criminal background checks and medical exams testing for drug use:
South Korea’s visa policy has been accused of favoring “gyopo” or ethnic Korean English teachers over other foreign nationals, with this favoritism creating loopholes in the system making it easier for those with criminal and drug records to go undetected. However, the government has indicated it has no immediate plan to change visa rules.
Many foreign nationals and operators of language institutes or hagwon claim that the government should apply the same visa screening rules to ethnic Korean English teachers as those applied to other foreigners seeking E-2 visas.
“The Korean immigration authorities require native English speakers to submit criminal records and health checkups, but gyopo are exempted from the requirements. Korean Americans, Korean Canadians and other foreign nationals of Korean descent are not always clean from drugs and diseases,” said Choi Chang-jin, the director at the Korea Association of Foreign Language Academies. “It’s an unfair visa policy in the eyes of other foreigners.”
He said he has witnessed some English instructors who were once expelled from Korea return to the country with other visas such as an F-2 or F-4, taking advantage of this system.
Lots of bitching and accusations follow. Particularly interesting was the case of one non-Korean married to a Korean who was asked to undergo medical and security tests even though he’s on an F-2 visa. I won’t speculate on how common a practice that is.
The Korean Immigration Service, meanwhile, argues that it’s acting within reason:
Regarding the complaints, the Korea Immigration Service said it was “reasonable discrimination under the Immigration Law.”
Kim Tae-soo, an immigration official said, “It’s our authority and policy to favor ethnic Koreans. We know there might be unqualified ethnic Koreans teaching English here, but you also need to understand there is no 100 percent perfect system. Other European countries also favor to their own people.”
Just from anectodal evidence (i.e., what I read in the papers), gyopo account for a good deal of the foreign drug crime in Korea, so I do find it odd that immigration authorities would take such an easy-going attitude with them.
For the record, I don’t find it unreasonable that Korea makes it easier for gyopo in matters of immigration — they do have ethnic ties to the country, after all. But if you’re going to allow them to work in schools, they should be subject to the same kinds of background checks as anyone else.