South Korea’s Immigration Control Act became subject to a constitutional appeal on Feb. 25 as the eligibility to work as an English teacher is limited to eight English-speaking countries regardless of the applicant’s language skills.
A humanitarian sojourner from Uganda who wished to remain anonymous wanted to make use of the degree she received from the university in her home country to get a job in Korea. However, she had a difficult time finding a job position she could work for with her humanitarian stay permit. Humanitarian sojourners could only engage in simple labor under the current standard, but her health deteriorated while working in factories, which had put her into a situation where she could no longer engage in such occupation.
As she had received all her formal education in English, she wanted to pursue her career in teaching English to Korean students. Despite difficult circumstances, she completed her graduate studies majoring in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). However, the Ministry of Justice declared that she cannot work as an English teacher because her nationality is not among the eight countries: the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, South Africa, and exceptionally Indian citizens who have signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
Lee Ye-ji, the lawyer in charge of the case as well as an attorney-at-law at Migration Center Friend shared the details and her thoughts on the issue. Migrant Center Friend is a non-profit civil foundation that deals with legal affairs related to human rights issues and the economic independence of immigrants in Korea.
“She decided to file a constitutional appeal against the guidelines not only to raise issues for her freedom and rights but to pursue equality and bring more opportunities to all people by changing the current system,” Lee said.
The fundamental starting point behind the case is that the Ministry of Justice comprehensively considered culture, customs, pronunciation, and public preference among English-speaking countries when deciding that only people with the aforementioned eight nationalities are able to teach English.
“This is discriminatory as they acknowledge their preference for white-centered countries,” Lee said. “This contradicts Article 6 of the Labor Standards Act, which prohibits racism in employment by stipulating that ‘employers cannot discriminate against workers on the grounds of gender, nationality, religion, or social status.’”
For language instructors other than English, Chinese, and Japanese, there are special guidelines that allow one to work as a teacher if the applicant holds an accredited teaching qualification or has a bachelor’s degree in a foreign language and a wage requirement of more than 80 percent of the gross national income per citizen of the previous year.
Lee dreams of applying the special guidelines to English, Chinese, and Japanese instructors so that they can work if they meet the qualification rather than be refused due to their nationalities.
Based on the current situation, Anjni Hirani, a sophomore from Kenya majoring in International Studies at Ewha, also shared her thoughts on the current act, based on a similar experience.
When Hirani was applying for the particular job, she was told that the company only favors American or European workers and was sometimes advised to lie that she was from South Africa rather than her home country to have higher chances of getting employed.
“While I understand why this act was set, I strongly believe that it should be revised to include other countries such as Kenya where English is an official language,” Hirani said.
She further explained that the act disregards an individual’s academic achievement in English teaching just because he or she is not from an English-speaking country.
“This act also indirectly puts the eight English-speaking countries on a higher pedestal just because they can speak English and have favorable accents, and these views could be harmful to such an advancing country like South Korea,” she said.
Hirani believes a revision would even attract a more eligible workforce from around the world.
“The act should further allow employment of teachers regardless of their origin and nationalities and require the right teaching qualifications such as TESOL or any relevant degree in English or teaching,” Hirani said.