Imprisonment of Unlicensed English teachers in South Korea
May 18, 2005 7:35 AM   Subscribe

Stories from a prison in South Korea, told by an English teacher imprisoned for teaching without a license. Punishment: deportation. But if a prisoner can't collect wages due, then the prisoner can't buy a plane ticket and stays jailed, where the prisoner can't make money, until such time as the prisoner can afford a plane ticket, ad infinitum. Part one. "The massive Mongolian sings beautifully. A sad falsetto—I imagine it to be about missing a faraway homeland of vast, green pastures, endless fertile grasslands, deserts and broad skies." Part two. "He should really go to a hospital outside of the detention center, but…he would have to pay for any medical treatment outside.…If he spends any money on medical bills he would have less money for buying his airplane ticket home. So he must go untreated."
posted by Mo Nickels (16 comments total)
The Korean government only pays for deportation airfare when a prisoner harms him or herself.

What does South Korea do to foreign nationals it declares persona non grata? If he got PNG status, would the US government come get him and fly him out, then stick him for the plane fare afterward?
posted by alumshubby at 7:50 AM on May 18, 2005

This makes no sense. The Vienna Convention mandates that the US Embassy be informed of this person's imprisonment. The US Embassy can then provide him with a repatriation loan he can use to return to the US. I notice that he mentions that he is trying to decide if he wants to leave or not, so perhaps this is a matter of choice for him?
posted by turner13 at 7:59 AM on May 18, 2005

Interesting... however his statement of "When I was first brought to the immigration authorities in Busan, I was threatened verbally as well as physically because I refused to show them my passport." and his admission that he was breaking the law (as were the other individuals he spoke of), causes me to wonder what the problem is here... He didn't cite any widespread abuse and the conditions he described didn't seem terrible.

Just wondering... did anyone else see any reason to feel this person has been wronged?
posted by HuronBob at 8:01 AM on May 18, 2005

I don't understand why he didn't immediately contact the consulate. The State Department has very clear guidelines for Americans on what to do if you are arrested in a foreign country.

One of the most essential tasks of the Department of State and of U.S. embassies and consulates abroad is to provide assistance to U.S. citizens incarcerated abroad. The State Department is committed to ensuring fair and humane treatment for American citizens imprisoned overseas. We stand ready to assist incarcerated citizens and their families within the limits of our authority, in accordance with international law. We can and do monitor conditions in foreign prisons and immediately protest allegations of abuse against American prisoners. We work with prison officials to ensure treatment consistent with internationally recognized standards of human rights and to ensure that Americans are afforded due process under local laws.
posted by zia at 8:11 AM on May 18, 2005

We stand ready to assist incarcerated citizens and their families within the limits of our authority -- i.e. we'll help you find a local lawyer.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:37 AM on May 18, 2005

I think this guy would rather try jail for a bit than be deported. He knows it's a one-way ticket (and he's paying for it) if he just hops on a plane.

He lives in South Korea, maybe he has a mate there, and deportation will leave him without all of the stuff and connections he has there. Even if he's somehow in the right (and it doesn't look like he is), it would take ages for him to get back into the country. And in Korea, he was getting paid for being a native speaker of English, something that won't take him far (or anywhere at all, depending on his other qualifications) if they send him back to the US.
posted by pracowity at 10:05 AM on May 18, 2005

racism is involved too, i think: ...When I was first brought to the immigration authorities in Busan, I was threatened verbally as well as physically because I refused to show them my passport. It was taken from me by force after at least seven immigration and police officials held me down (one, almost suffocated me by covering my mouth.) Before they knew I was an American they thought I was from some African country. After they learned I was American, their attitudes changed drastically...

posted by amberglow at 10:30 AM on May 18, 2005

I spent several months teaching English in Korea (with a legit visa) and encountered several people teaching there "illegally" who would be deported, only to come back and repeat the process again. Since this seems to be a curious case, I think amberglow is right in that the racism angle is probably more relevant than is being put forth. I'm half-Korean and someone who has spent plenty of time in the insular Korean's a pretty common stereotype that Korean people don't like/ are afraid of Africans or black-skinned people.

Off topic, while I was in Korea, I met the mother of the first person extradited to Korea for the murder an exchange student in the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul (near the US army base). The girl spent over a year languishing in a Korean jail cell, when a lot of the evidence pointed to the culprit possibly being a US need to See here for more on this bizarre case.
posted by ch3ch2oh at 10:59 AM on May 18, 2005

When I was stationed in South Korea during the late 1980's (with the USAF), I had a Korean girlfriend, Kim Hae Jin, who was assaulted by a drunk at the club where she danced. He struck her with a beer bottle across the left eye; she required sixteen stitches and weeks of hospitalization. Her head swelled up to the size of a basketball, literally.

I lived with her in the hospital, sleeping in the same bed, and providing every meal from the nearby Chinese Takeaway. It was necessary that I provided the meals, because the hospital didn't, nor was it the nurse's responsibility to check on patients, but rather the responsibility of family (or friend's, as in my case) to monitor the patient's condition and fetch the nurse as needed.

Hae Jin had no money to pay the hospital bill, but they would not let her go home until she had paid in full. I didn't understand much Korean, so I didn't understand this situation until three weeks had passed (thinking that she was still in hospital because her condition required it). When I became aware of what was really happening, I paid the bill and we went home. Although the amount due was only $5,000, I was a poor airmen (of course, I know that this is relative), and it took me years to recover financially.

As bizarre as this was, I loved Korea (being in love with Hae Jin certainly amplified this affection), and don't want to sound like the Koreans are a horrific uncaring people. The opposite is generally true. Still, it was weird, and quite a cultural shock.
posted by Chasuk at 11:54 AM on May 18, 2005

Cool story, thanks for sharing. I worked for the USAF in Seoul back in the mid-90s, and the big fear at our unit was getting into a traffic wreck. They wouldn't let US military people leave the country until the case was resolved in court. Understandable of course, but Korean justice is slow and it could take almost a year to get a court date. We had a guy in our unit who was there 9 months past his DEROS (return from overseas date) because of a fender-bender.

BTW, Hae Jin was also the name of a legendary transvestite in Itaewon (red light district of Seoul, not that I ever really went there), so haejin ended up being the root password on our mainframe computer system. Wonder if they ever changed it.
posted by rolypolyman at 12:14 PM on May 18, 2005

A friend who took the bait on "teaching english in Korea" reported back that the korean mafia runs a scam in which they hire impecunious americans, then put them up in hovel-like conditions while taking most of their earnings from teaching english. Of course, all "licenses" and such are ignored. If the teacher is caught, it's his tough luck. My friend was caught, but since the cops were busting mafia types at the time (and he was simply caught up in the dragnet), the korean police allowed him to fly to japan (?) and get the necessary paperwork done, upon whence he returned and finished out the year teaching for a legit outfit.

Guess this guy wasn't so lucky.
posted by telstar at 2:14 PM on May 18, 2005

Very intresting thread.
posted by delmoi at 2:25 PM on May 18, 2005

ah, fpp is in error, this is a visa issue not a 'licensing' issue.

This is as it should be, more or less. When I went to Japan in 1992 I got a job at a private school on a Tourist Visa, but had the paperwork moving forward before starting work. It took 3 months to process the paperwork, so I was technically breaking the law until my real visa came. I had to leave the country and return (I went to Seoul overnight) to get a new 3 month tourist visa, and at the airport upon my return the Immigration people pulled me out for a reasonably friendly interview. I let slip my employer, but they didn't bust my ass over this, in fact this resolved the issue to their satisfaction (I had a reasonably legit employer). Helped to be an innocent whitey gaijin type.

miss that job, *sniff*. Well, the good parts, anyway. Funny how we forget the skull-fucking boring parts of life.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:25 PM on May 18, 2005

A friend who took the bait on "teaching english in Korea" reported back that the korean mafia runs a scam in which they hire impecunious americans, then put them up in hovel-like conditions while taking most of their earnings from teaching english.

Nonsense. Perfectly legitimate businessmen do this. They're called 'academic directors'. I actually know the guy who started the long-running hoax story about the 'mafia' thing, under an assumed username, on the biggest message board for ESL teachers in Korea, a long while back. He's still proud of stirring up so much shit about it. Korean ESL mafia. Riiight.

I know scores of foreigners here in Korea who work cowboy, without visas, and are making anywhere from US$4K on up to $7K or more monthly, and have been doing so for years. This is not to excuse them -- I call them cowboys for a reason -- but it's scarcely rare, and they know they're breaking the law. The smart ones don't get caught, but if they do, they cough up the money for a ticket, and come back again after a nice long rest in Thailand or somewhere, mostly.

Years ago, I was caught up with a dozen other foreigners when immigration police raided a bar in the same city, Busan, rounded us up, dragged us down to the offices at the port, and went through our papers. I was released, along with all the others who were carrying their paperwork, after a couple of hours, and went back to the bar. Some others were not so lucky. It happens with clockwork regularity in Busan, whenever some mid-level official gets a bug up his ass about the 'foreigner problem'.

This guy wasn't teaching without a license, by the way (as Heywood noted above). He was teaching without the proper visa. There is no licensing for foreign teachers here in Korea -- as long as you graduated in something, anything, from a 4 year university program, you can get an E2 visa (through a job offer) and get teaching work tied to the institution (you know, like the mafia (heh)) that sponsored it. Not good work, at the outset, unless you're lucky, but reasonably-paid work with a very low income-tax rate.

racism is involved too, i think

Of course. It almost always is, at one level or another.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:55 PM on May 18, 2005

Thanks for the link, by the way. And I will say that although it sucks that this guy was manhandled because he was not white-skinned, apparently (and I totally believe that part of the story), he was breaking immigration law and I have limited sympathy for him. Especially given that he didn't have the simple common sense to make sure that he had an emergency cash-stash somewhere and a trusted person with access to it, which is the first goddamn thing you do if you're going to be flirting with deportation.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:00 PM on May 18, 2005

Sorry, another comment.

More worthy of interest, in my opinion, is this guy who was arrested a couple of days ago on similar immigration-related charges, with the reality being that he was finally detained because he's been trying to unionize the SE Asian factory workers that have been growing in numbers (and are an exploited underclass) in recent years in Korea.

Note he is suffering from head and hand injuries 'because he fell down'. Yup.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:50 PM on May 18, 2005

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