It is surprising at just how little attention this has received but, 110 Korean students (Joongang-Ilbo says 113) - most of them between the ages of  10 and 16 – have had their passports confiscated and are being detained by Philippine immigration officials for entering the country illegally to study English at a Korean-operated English academy.  It is truly a sordid affair and should prove to be fairly amusing to many of the English teachers in Korea.

According to the Korea Times (January 14, 2011):

The students, mostly of elementary school age and a handful from middle school, had paid 2 million won to 3 million won individually to a Philippine institute that was in charge of the English learning program, and started classes early this month.

However, they were reported to have violated the law when the BI discovered that the institute did not pay the 150,000 won for each student’ SSP to the local government.

This is in fact not the first time students or Koreans have been detained in the Philippines for not having the proper documents they needed to stay and study.

Despite warnings against such incidents, many parents and Korean institutes that arrange the language courses just proceed with the cheap and quick language courses.

“Even when they realize that the program is not that good and the students have to study with a bunch of other Korean students, they just turn a blind eye,’’ said a clerk from a language institute, declining to be named.

According to immigration law in the Philippines, foreigners cannot come and study without a student visa or an SSP.

The SSP is only given to those who are studying at a certified institute by the immigration office, and experts warn parents to confirm this requirement before signing up for a language program in the Philippines.

As a note – the word “detain” in regards to the students doesn’t mean they are being held in jail but are being prevented from leaving the country.  They are still staying at their dorms and are able to do some touristy-type of activities.  The adults are/were being detained at Camp Bagong Diwa.

WHO IS TO BLAME?

But just how willing are these parents to investigate the legal status of these academies?  The Joongang Ilbo editorial (January 17, 2011) characterizes the students’ plight as having been “victimized by greedy companies willing to break the law in order to save money.” 

Even today, most companies that help parents send their children to study in the Philippines still publicize on their Web sites that they can get students enrolled in courses without the necessary visas, citing their “experience” in such affairs.

They advertise that students can stay up to a year as long as they have their passports and a round-trip airline ticket.

You would think the offer of getting around the visa requirement would raise red flags in the minds of parents but obviously not.  As many of these articles have noted – studying English in North America and, for that matter, in Korea, is just too expensive.  It is probably a little ironic that Korean parents worry about crime in the United States but have little qualms of committing a crime – per se – in the Philippines.  How much of a crime?

Sandra Cam blows the whistle!

According to one report: “There’s an estimated 40,000-50,000 Korean English students in Korean Language Centers in Metro Manila, Cavite, Batangas, Quezon, Baguio, Angeles, Cebu, Iloilo and Dumaguete.”  It is obvious that a lot of people, including the Philippine authorities, are aware of these illegal schools, so what caused the sudden crack down?  Pretty much a no-brainer – money.  I find it more than a little amusing that it resembles the actions of academy owners here in Korea who took matters into their own hands by alerting immigration officials of foreigners privately tutoring because they saw it as a threat to their businesses (discussed here on the Hole -Watch out Big Nose Teachers).  According to this blogger – Buhay Sa Korea:

Sandra Cam, known as the hueteng whistleblower, complained about a Korean-run English learning center in the Philippines that has been using the name of Cam’s school without her permission.

Sandra Cam is quite the character and those interested can google her name – I have, however provided this one link to GMA.NEWS (March 1, 2010).

This article in Philippine Star (January 11, 2011) goes into much greater detail in the role Sandra Cam played.

A Korean woman recruiter had approached Sandra to enroll 30 Korean students at Nazareth Institute for English classes. Sandra asked the Korean lady if the Korean students had secured a student study permit (SSP) from the Bureau of Immigration and asked her to show their passports. The Korean recruiter retorted:  “It is not necessary to get an SSP because we just pay immigration officials to protect us.”

That is a lot of money!  According to the article’s title – P300 million take for immigration – which is about $6.8 million USD.

Apparently the blog – Buhay Sa Korea got his/her information from this video (In Tagalog and English with footage of the school) or in this article in Manila Standard Today (January 14, 2011) which gives a great amount of information including the location of the and the names of the adult Koreans arrested – naturally I won’t paste those here but if you are interested – read the article.  I did find it interesting to note that the article said the students would also be blacklisted from returning to the Philippines but I remember reading elsewhere that the Korean government was taking steps to remedy that as the students were “victims” as well.

This article by GMA.NEWS.TV (January 15, 2011) had this to add:

“According to the BI, the six South Korean nationals pretended to be conducting ‘summer camps’, when the facility was in fact being operated as an English-language school staffed by Filipino teachers,” the DFA said in the release.

“The facility was being marketed as a school in South Korea,” it added.

Apparently not all the students were from the same academy.  According to the Joongang Ilbo article on January 15, 2011:

The sources said 43 more Korean children studying at another language center in the Philippines, along with seven Korean managers, were rounded up later by immigration and also had their passports confiscated.

According to Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the 113 Korean students remain at residences affiliated with the centers, but the 14 Korean adults are being detained at an immigration office in the Philippines.

THE AFTERMATH

Wonder how the adults liked Camp Bagong Diwa which is described as “a prison complex and drug rehabilitation center”? This article in the Philippine Examiner (January 16, 2011) reports that 7 of the Korean adults have already been deported and will be barred from reentering the Philippines.  They should be glad to be out of the country.  An activist group in the Philippines wanted them (names included in the article) charged for human smuggling.

And, in closing, this article in the Korea Times entitled 60 years later – Korea is biggest donor to RP (January 17, 2011) just strikes me as ironic:

When it comes to people-to-people exchanges, both have an illuminating profile.