By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Jan. 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will not backtrack on its tougher visa restrictions for foreigners seeking English teaching jobs here despite a temporary shortage in teachers, Seoul's top immigration official said Tuesday.
The government tightened the E-2 entry visa rule last month, requiring applicants to submit criminal records, drug test results, and documents on their interviews with Korean consular officials.
"The measure is part of efforts to protect children and students," said Choo Kyu-ho, commissioner of Korea Immigration Service.
Interpol announced late last year that Christopher Paul Neil, a Canadian school teacher accused of molesting boys, once worked in South Korea, ringing an alarm and prompting Seoul to toughen its visa policy. The arrest of foreign language instructors on drug charges frequently appears in the media.
More than 17,000 foreigners, mostly from English-speaking nations, are employed at either schools or private foreign language institutes across the country, according to Choo's office.
In 2007 alone, a total of 13,782 E-2 visas were issued to foreigners. But the number of visas has been declining since the new policy went into effect.
Language institutes say they suffer difficulties in hiring native speakers, and the salaries of existing teachers are shooting up due to a shortage in manpower.
The foreign community here also expressed uneasiness about the new visa policy triggered by the media report on the Canadian pedophile.
"I'm frankly quite tired of seeing us portrayed as criminal, drug-using pedophiles," Daniel Lalonde, who introduced himself as an English teacher in Pohang, a southern port city, wrote in a letter to the Korea Times.
Choo, a former Foreign Ministry official, said he knows that most foreign teachers here do their work with sincerity, unrelated to crime.
"But a preventive step is needed to create circumstances under which students learn foreign language without safety concerns," he said.
He said that the current supply trouble is a "transitional phenomenon."
"Language institutes can overcome the problem by diversifying their channels to recruit foreign teachers," he said. "I think there are many qualified people who want to work here."
Choo also said the government is pushing to give the E-2 visa to those from Asian nations which use English as an official language in an effort to meet the growing demand for English teachers.
Current regulations allow only nationals from western countries where English is spoken as a“native language”to teach.
"Consultations are underway among related authorities," he said.
Still, it is unclear how popular English teachers from Asian nations will be among Koreans who place excessive emphasis on accent and pronunciation in speaking English, experts say.
Parents here are known to have an obsession with English education for their children.
More than 17,000 fathers live alone in South Korea after sending their wives and children to English-speaking nations, a survey showed.
They are nicknamed "goose daddies" because they fly to the countries where their families live once or twice a year. Those who have no money or time to see their families are called "penguin daddies."
South Korea's incoming government plans to drastically change the country's English education system, with a proposed idea calling for about 1,400 high schools nationwide to offer English language classes entirely in English starting in 2010.
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