This is a gem. I’ve always wondered what goes on in the minds of immigration agents before entering a hagwon. “Cover the back exit”. I love the dumbass excuse by the director. “Stopped by to eat snacks? WTF?”
DAEJEON ㅡ Hur Chang-goo, a veteran immigration police officer, hopped in a car with his partner, a female interpreter. Their mission: To catch a foreign national illegally teaching English at a kindergarten.
Tipped off that a Canadian teacher was hired to teach at the private institute, they needed to check it out. On their way, they discussed ways to block any possible attempt by the teacher to flee. The Korea Times accompanied them.
It’s illegal for any foreign national, even those with an E-2 visa, to work at an institute registered as kindergarten. Under Korean law, kindergartens are banned from providing English classes.
Upon arrival, the officer silently walked into the kindergarten’s porch, the noise of kids filtering down from upstairs.
“We are from Daejeon Immigration Office. Please call the foreign teacher,” Hur declared. Caught off guard by the uninvited, abrupt “guests,” the chief rushed to the building’s upper floor and soon came down with a Canadian instructor.
The officer asked a couple of questions. What are you doing here? Did this institute hire you? Are you teaching kids? The teacher, 28, refused to answer any of the questions.
On behalf of the teacher, the institute’s president claimed the person “happened to be at the institute by chance to eat snacks, not to teach kids,” adding that he works at a nearby language institute.
The two presidents were ordered to appear at the immigration office the following week for additional questions.
The police officer did not go into the classroom where the person might have possibly been teaching kids, taking into consideration the possible negative impact it might have had on the children.
He called the two school presidents days later for further questioning. They strongly denied that the teacher was teaching kids at the kindergarten.
The officer failed to secure any concrete evidence that immigration law had been violated.
“Nobody admits their wrongdoing from the beginning,” Hur said returning to his office. “The two presidents’ statements were a bit conflicting and did not fit well. But, as the kindergarten president did not admit hiring the foreign teacher, we couldn’t prove anything.”
The officer said that the case illustrates how hard it is to nab illegal foreign workers, with the difficulty compounded by a lack of manpower at the immigration office.
“We have lots of work to do, causing most immigration officers to work late at the office almost everyday. This case apparently imposed another burden on us,” he said with a bitter smile.
His office covers not only Daejeon, where the headquarters are located, but also South Chungcheong Province.
The office estimates there are more than 58,000 foreign nationals, including roughly 12,000 illegal foreign workers, in the area. The number has jumped in recent years.
Even if they wanted to catch all the illegal foreign workers, there are only nine investigators at the office.
“It is basically impossible to put the whole area under our control with the current manpower,” said Son Jong-ha, chief officer of Daejeon Immigration Office. “We sometimes fail to react immediately to tip-offs on illegal foreign workers.”
He said an increase of manpower was the only way to get back on track.
“We need at least 40 to 50 more investigators,” Son said. “Any administrative reform without additional staff would be meaningless.”
The immigration office focuses on catching those working illegally at private language institutes, and kindergartens.
There are two foreigner-only prisons in the Daejeon area _ Daejeon Correction Center and Cheonan Correction Center. They hold approximately 60 percent of foreign lawbreakers sentenced to three months or longer in jail.
Son expressed concerns over civic groups that denounce the immigration offices’ crackdown on illegal foreign workers.
“Whenever our raids hit the headlines, civic groups attack us. They say illegal foreign laborers are here with the pure purpose of making money and supporting their family members in their home countries,” he said. “If any foreigner is injured during the raid, they condemn us. But weeding out illegal foreign workers is important to protect them from being abused by employers.”
Noting that the government’s inconsistent policies on illegal foreign labor have created sympathetic feelings toward illegal foreigners, he said “In the past, foreigners had limited access to work here. Nowadays, however, the government offers diverse opportunities to would-be foreign laborers, ensuring their legal status.”