Monday, April 5, 2010

Rumblings around ATEK - and a new group forming UPDATED

UPDATED 5 April 2010 12:36 PM - I stated in the comments that I would update this post if / when I received a statement / reply from Greg Dolezal, ATEK's current president. Since I failed to do that when I first wrote this post, I sent my sincere apologies to him and asked for his statement. It was not done intentionally or to make anybody look bad. In the interest of timing and continuity, his statement will be at the bottom.


So there's been some noise from around the ATEK camp again - not something that'll make the mainstream media - and word of a new group that may show some promise. In the interest of trying to document things dispassionately, I'll be offering more blockquotes from e-mails or public statements than opinions.

March 31 - ATEK's president Greg Dolezal sent out a fairly long letter to ATEK's mailing list that began with the following two paragraphs:
A week or so ago, Barbara Waldern (former chair of the Busan PMA), Stephanie White (my competitor from Daegu in the first presidential election), and John Wurth (former chair of the Gyeonggi PMA) have formed their own human rights association that is intended to serve expat English teachers in Korea. They are focused specifically on advocacy. [emphasis mine] At this time ATEK is primarily devoted to creating improved services for members, building infrastructure, and recruiting officers across the country.

These changes can be difficult at first and thus we have to say good-bye to these officers who have served for nearly a year. As they move on to work with their new organization, they take with them not only my gratitude, but also my hopes and best wishes for their future success. I’m sure all members will join with me in recognizing that there is no shortage of problems to be solved nor challenges to be faced, and the more groups we have working on them the better.

The rest of Greg's e-mail talks about him stepping down as ATEK's president in July, ATEK's presence at the KOTESOL conference recently, and a vote on changing the organization's bylaws.

As both a blogger about life in Korea and associations interested in assisting teachers, I e-mailed Stephannie White to learn more. From her e-mailed statement:
While it is true that I have been in contact with former ATEK officers who are now forming another advocacy group, I am not a central part of that process. With less than one year in Korea remaining on my contract, I am not in a position to accept responsibility for a leadership position in an official capacity.
It is also true that I have withdrawn my membership/support from ATEK due to disturbing information I have received concerning the actions of the National Council of ATEK. I communicated my concerns to the new Membership Chair (who was not elected per the by laws) and was told that a response to my concerns would be given. The Membership chair asked that I be objective and I said I would be. Unfortunately, my ESP levels are quite low and I need actual communication in order to facilitate my objectivity. It's been over two weeks and I have still not received a response to my concerns.
Since I have not yet received a reply from the new Membership Chair of ATEK, I can not say with 100% certainty that my concerns are issues the general membership should be concerned about, yet perhaps even a 50% certainty is worth a personal investigation on the part of individual members.
Specifically: The lack of a National Council meeting since last September/November. The lack of following the bylaws in the selection of Membership Chair, Publicity Chair, and the dubious formation of an Ethics Committee that is being used like McCarthy used comic books, to further personal agenda's of certain members of the National Council.

I am aware that the current president of ATEK has issued a statement to membership asserting that I am working to found another advocacy group with the officers who have left ATEK. This statement was issued without verification of the facts and I have been promised a retraction and public apology [emphasis mine]. I'm not holding my breath, as the last response I was told I'd have is two weeks late. And unlike the statement issued by the current ATEK president, I'm not naming names among the National Council power mongers; that is the responsibility of the general membership to be aware of what their leaders are doing. And if the lack of transparency doesn't suit the general membership, it's their individual responsibility to do something about it. (ask questions, verify information, protest Nat. Council actions or withdraw from membership )
If you're still reading, the story hasn't fully unfolded yet. Beyond the seemingly petty spat about an incorrect statement and lack of a promised retraction, there's another whole story here.

April 1: An e-mail is received from Barbara Walden regarding this new group:
It has become very evident that an alternate teachers' organization is needed in order for teachers, especially those from abroad on contract in Korea, to organize and support each other. A collaboration began to establish FREED Busan, the First Response for English Educators, and the result so far is FREED in Busan and Gyeongnam-do. The purpose is to keep focused on the issues of teachers from abroad and build and maintain a service especially to address such issues because discrimination and other abuses against foreign teachers continue. It intends to be a first response system for newcomers especially. It will not be afraid to discuss the situation of foreign teachers.

What is proposed in this initial phase is a loose regional support network to act as a first response in assisting migrant teachers, connected electronically and holding casual meetings where and when possible. That is, it is largely a support network carrying information and friendship of particular concern to teachers, and particularly teachers on work visas and contracts. Aspects of developing this support network farther are being researched.

Below is the draft of the founding charter of FREED Busan-Gyeongnam. Please consider being a part of FREED Busan-Gyeongnam, or creating a branch in your region. Please submit feedback about the concept of FREED Busan and the draft Charter.

Disregard the statement made by Greg Dolezal as President of ATEK. His statement about the establishment of FREED and the people involved are erroneous as it is based on hearsay and guesses. ATEK had no business speaking for FREED. There has been no collaboration and will not be collaboration with ATEK about FREED. For further clarification, national ATEK leaders (through members [AT] stole my email account and Facebook group page, which is criminal, and complaints are being made to authorities.
Yours most truly,
Barbara Waldern
The e-mail included a draft of their founding charter - something written in plain English, albeit still a draft, and a bit long to quote for the sake of this post. While FREED is still a very new group, one still without a website (to my knowledge), there seems to be plenty of possibilities to get involved. E-mailing will get you involved faster than you can say 'advocacy'.

So once you get over the erroneous statements and other silly spats, what's really going on? At it's heart, you have a difference in direction. Since its inception, ATEK has been more about making change legally, legitimately, and aboveboard. After a tumultuous year-plus, it's hard to say what ATEK has actually accomplished that's helped the average English teacher. I'm not making any more money than I was before ATEK was around. I'm not in a more stable position because ATEK is around. ATEK has not done anything that makes a modicum of difference in the world of Korea - sure, it's a great-sounding idea among the world of expat teachers, but what power does the organization actually HAVE? Between a lack of committed officers, a difficult-to-impossible agenda, and a population of mostly passive recipients, the organization is at best a good-intentioned group who's bark is far worse than its bite.

While I don't yet know enough about this new organization, I suspect advocacy - or a more direct / active approach - is needed to confront employers that won't follow the contracts they drew up, Koreans that think we're below them and can thus be insulted whenever it pleases them, and any number of other things.


April 5: Greg Dolezal's response (copied and pasted in its entirety):
Thanks for emailing me about this. It goes a long way to restore my trust in your dedication to dispassionate objective commentary and news values. Unlike other stories which are often directed at faceless subjects like “the government” or “English teachers,” this piece was directed at me personally and at the organization for which I volunteer directly. The words you (as a purveyor of alternative media and a respected opinion leader) choose, the way you frame the story as it develops, and the amount of investigative reporting you provide has a tangible impact on the way your readers understand any future information about ATEK. This cause is too precious to risk over some disgruntled former officers with their own agenda who have gone public with their complaints. It would be far better if this time and energy were spent discussing and acting on practical solutions to the challenges English teachers face every day.

Although ATEK is over one year old it is quite young as an organization. It’s not unusual for a non-profit to take 5-10 years to establish itself and gain the respect that is necessary to affect change that can be seen by even the most uninformed person. At this critical stage of growth and maturity it is imperative that not only ATEK members, but the English teaching community generally, have the proper context for understanding the obstacles and accomplishments of the association. I’m not saying that everyone need agree with present or past actions, but it would be a huge step back to go back an entire year to the debates over whether ATEK should exist. It does exist and it will continue to be more effective with time. The real question that requires attention is what should be the short term and long term goals and perhaps more importantly, how can one get involved in attaining them. [emphasis mine]

As much as I would like to copy the “he said – she said” emails that circulated (and especially those that did not) I will not submit them, because although they would certainly speak for themselves and provide ample support for my position, I would be engaging in just the sort of behavior that led to this unfortunate public conflict in the first place. I sincerely believe that internal politics should remain – internal. The public does not have the context and familiarity with the facts to fully appreciate either side in such a drama and it only damages the association and distracts from ATEK’s mission. Nor should they. Personal grievances aired in a public forum damage the reputation of everyone who participates regardless of who is right or wrong. Moreover, I believe that emails sent in confidence should not be circulated to parties who were not involved; which is exactly what happened to me.

The letter that I sent to members and a similar letter that was sent to the members of the Busan PMA convey the sincere sentiment of ATEK’s volunteers and members. There are precious few voices for English teachers and even fewer that are respected by the Korean public. It is extremely counter-productive to in any way hinder the efforts of any association that works for this cause. The specific aims and missions might differ, so too might the way the groups are organized and led, but a spirit of mutual collaboration is the way to truly serve the members of any group seeking to improve the lives of English teachers in Korea.

For this reason, despite any criticisms the founders of FREED may have, ATEK will always welcome the opportunity to work together on shared goals. That’s why ATEK is meeting with leaders of groups like KOTESOL, AFEK, MTU, Amnesty International, Hagwon owners, recruiters, KTU, government officers etc. Even though these groups have a different focus, and even represent different people, they all have some part of their agenda that is shared by the members of ATEK. Perhaps there aren’t many areas of intersection or perhaps there could be conflicting areas of interest, but where there is common cause there is no denying the power of multiple voices joined in a common cause. That’s when real change takes place.

In regards to Ms. White’s complaint about being associated too closely or inaccurately with FREED I offer my deepest apologies. It was my understanding that she was a founding member. I have now learned that she is merely a consultant and is not a founding member. That was a distinction that I was not aware of at the time I wrote my email to members. I stand corrected. I never meant any ill will by associating Ms. White with Mr. Wurth or Ms. Waldern. I hope that the founders of FREED and Ms. White will accept my mistake as an honest misunderstanding. I thought that informing the membership about what was going on was important.

This isn’t the first time some of our members have gone on to form their own groups to pursue their personal causes with greater vigor and focus. We appreciate their contributions and look forward to having a productive dialog in the future. There will always be disagreement in any association involving humans. Volunteers invest so much of themselves into their work and so it is natural that they should feel a sense of ownership of what results from it. It’s important that it is rewarding and provides satisfaction. That’s why I remain committed to ATEK and what it is doing for teachers everyday and what it will do.

Some of the commentators on this and other blogs have expressed concern over what ATEK has done to advance their cause or improve their life. A suggestion I would like to follow up on is providing regular reports on what kind of assistance has been given. It’s important to mention that very few if any teachers want to be the subject of a press release or an honorable mention on someone’s website – including ATEK’s. That is uncomfortable for a teacher who wishes to find more jobs in Korea after addressing some issue. I can say with authority that ATEK helps at least one teacher every single day with problems like wrongful dismissal, non-payment of benefits or wages, deportation, loss of housing, and human rights violations. [emphasis mine] This doesn’t take into account the teachers who get anecdotal advice from the forums, the guidebook, or members at large about everyday things that just make life easier.

I have seen so many success stories. It’s a lot like having life insurance or car insurance – when you don’t need it you wonder why you need it and when you do need it you are damn glad you have it.

In case this blogpost comes off any other way, I'm certainly on the side of organizing, building relationships, and working together. Yes, I recognize that building goodwill and positive feelings can take some time, especially in a still-somewhat-xenophobic country such as Korea. It doesn't help that there are so many factors working against coming together - or that foreigners have little leverage to affect change in almost every country of the world.

Anyway - I'm done with the 'he said, she said' drama. It doesn't make anyone look good. When ATEK has some news or progress to report, I'll do my best to bring it to you. If FREED or any other group makes progress on making life in Korea easier for foreigners living in Korea, I'll be bringing that out as well.

In the meantime, I would still like to see some indications of ATEK's progress. One possible model to follow is Shannon Heit over at the Seoul City Blog. She occasionally posts about getting labor disputes resolved - one recent example is here. She keeps the disputees anonymous, but it shows that the Seoul Global Center offers free legal consultations that help in a concrete way.

Moving forward - time to get back to the kind of writing I prefer - traveling posts. Look for one coming up soon.

Comments are open - play nice. Personal attacks will be deleted - please stick to the issues / criticism at hand here.

Creative Commons License
© Chris Backe - 2010

This post was originally published on my blog, Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.


Brian said...

Thanks for getting that news out.

Trying to be as diplomatic as I can, I'll say that ATEK didn't work, and that probably poisoned the market for teachers' organizations.

Jason said...

Korean ESL/EFL workers are transient upper class migrant workers for the most part.

Trying to get a transient population of workers with no long term roots involved in something like a teachers association, which I think needs members who are rooted in the social-work space, never seemed all that possible to me.

It looks like someone needs to set up something with a leadership of long-term expats with roots in Korea (marriage, kids, etc) who can maintain some degree of continuity as temporary workers come and go. The charter of such an organization would have to have mechanisms in place that ensure transparency (like posting mp3 recordings of meetings online), and a charter that has a focus both on long term expat needs, and on newbie/short term transient worker needs.

From everything I've seen ATEK doesn't seem to be doing that...though I pretty much stopped paying attention to what they were doing about 6 months maybe I'm wrong.

Anyways, yeah, the whole situation is messed up.

Thanks for posting about this Chris.

Chris in South Korea said...

@Jason: You've basically described AFEK (if you haven't heard of them before I wouldn't be too surprised). While I don't know much about them, it's an association for people with an F-class visa. Check out if you qualify or want to learn more - for the most part, they seem content to circle their proverbial wagons and let the rest of the world go by...

Roboseyo said...

AFEK is a good group, as far as I can tell. They're quiet, but they're helping each other out in tangible ways.

I was going to write a long response in a comment here,
but i made it into a post at Roboseyo.

(URL: in case the link doesn't work)

Basically: don't judge too quickly. Rome wasn't built in a day, and real change always takes time. Better a slow success than a noisy failure.

When I met the Canadian Ambassador, he mentioned some things he did for Canadian English teachers that never made headlines, because that's how diplomats do things. Low and slow.

kushibo said...

The histrionics continue. These organizations are self-tainting and the new one has been poisoned before it's out of the gate. But of course, as long as these new hydra-like organizations are founded and run by reactionary speech-givers instead of people who actually have a feel for how to run an effective organization, this K-blog side show will go on and on and on.

And speaking of which, when will Greg Dolezal or anyone at ATEK ever release the header information on the death threat so we can discern from where it was sent?

That so much effort and focus was spent on those highly questionable allegations in the utter absence of easy-to-provide information that would point to the real culprit, at the expense of real issues facing English teachers, is very damning.

An effective organization like ATEK purports to want to be needs to be run by bridge-builders, not bomb throwers, and people who actually know how to effect the change they want to see.

Too much of ATEK's creation and implementation has been driven by emotional and reactive misstep. Sadly, though, the crop of people currently poised against the current leadership are no more promising.

themagicbean said...

Chris, I think as Rob pointed out in his blog, it was a bit unprofessional of you to seek one side's personal input (Barb's) without also seeking the other (Greg's). Simply putting up this editorial (and at Koreabridge as well unless that was a third party) and saying "Greg can read the internet so he can respond in the comments" as a justification for not contacting him first is not the kind of thing a trained journalist would do and it hurts your credibility.

Chris in South Korea said...

@themagicbean: Agreed - apologies for not getting Greg's side of the story. I've sent him an e-mail apologizing, telling him of my post as well as Rob's, and inviting his comment via e-mail or on either post. If he has anything to add, we'll all benefit from reading it.

TJ said...

If you ask me, and I realize no one has, ATEK is doing exactly what people asked them to do, and as of late under the guidance of the current president, doing it quite well.

They have gotten away from the flash in the pan sensational headline grabbing actions of the original launch and focused on membership.

If you are measuring change in Korea within the time frame of a single year, or even five years, you need to step back. Real change has been and continues to occur in Korea.

ATEK is a step in the progress that has been taking place since before I first came here twenty years ago, and if they continue on their present heading will continue to be a part of that change for the next twenty years.

What is not needed in my opinion are divisive "us vs. them" groups, that I sense FREED is. I say sense because nothing is known about them at this point.

Which brings me to my questions. Why is this "news"? Why is a blogger so quick to put the nail in ATEK's coffin and announce an organization that hasn't even announced itself? What is the blogger's relationship with both ATEK and FREED?

kushibo said...

I second what TJ is saying about giving ATEK time to settle down and do the heavy lifting and see where that goes.

I've strongly disagreed with some of the stances they've taken, but I want to see a good, solid organization get out there and make a difference, and at this point, ATEK is the best hope for that for the NSETs.

Chris in South Korea said...

Please read the update from Greg Dolezal before continuing through the comments, if you haven't already.

@TJ: "Why is this "news"? Why is a blogger so quick to put the nail in ATEK's coffin and announce an organization that hasn't even announced itself? What is the blogger's relationship with both ATEK and FREED?"

Last question first. My relationship with ATEK? I'm a general member and get all the member e-mails, although I don't have time to volunteer or participate in the governance of the organization. My relationship with FREED? I've never met two of the three involved people before in my life. I've met Stephannie in-person a few times before.

I'm not eager to put a 'nail in the coffin' of anything - I received some information, made some inquiries, and formed an opinion. As stated in the updated part, I'll be putting forth information from groups trying to help foreigners in Korea as it comes my way.

I'm not sure if I'd call this 'news', but perhaps information about a subject there hasn't been much information from recently. If you'd like to call it 'news' go right ahead. Time will tell if these announcements will gain any traction.

thebobster said...

I think it should be clear whenever AFEK is mentioned - it's a message board, only that, and not an organization in any sense that ATEK or this other group in Busan is striving to be. It is no more a "group" than Sperling's ESL Cafe is, or for that matter, Chris's blog here.

The only goals of the site are to provide a place where people can talk, commonly about things that would likely only interest people in the specific situation of living as foreigners married to Koreans and existing here over a lengthy period - topics like visa issues, raising kids, job leads for places that only want F-visa holders, for instance.

Also, it's becoming a social networking venue, and several get-together have taken place, many offering places to bring kids (though some beer nights have taken place as well.)

There is at present no advocacy going on or planned, and several who post there are opposed to any kind of advocacy at all.

It's not in any way similar to ATEK, or any other group seeking to improve things here, and it's certainly not an alternative or replacement for such groups.

Chris in South Korea said...

@thebobster: Thanks for the clarification - so little of the website is available to non-members that it's really hard to tell what's going on behind the login / password screen.

greg said...


My mention of this group is only to say that I'm in steady contact with many members and moderators and that I value their feedback as it relates to among other things F series visa holding teachers.

Chris said...

Chris in SK,

Interesting post as always. I posted on Robs blog on the same issue (ATEK) but wanted to write something here as well.

I think you asking what has ATEK done in this past year and change is a valid question. Where I think you made a slight mistake is in including things like you not making more money.

ATEK is not there to raise your pay. You are there to raise your pay through experience, achievements, improving credentials and networking. ATEK will not be able to change the pay of foreign teachers unless a very fundamental change is effected in the way Korea selects applicants when it issues work visas.

With higher pay comes higher qualifications and more responsability. This clashes with the way ESL operates in Korea and in clear relation with the majority of expat teachers in Korea.

Think about it. Should ATEK demand higher pay and better conditions for Foreign Teachers, then Korea would most logically respond by raising the selection bar and by changing the job definition of a foreign English Teacher. This could mean equal qualifications in Public Schools for example (certification for all Teachers, local and foreign) along with equal work duties and responsabilities.

With that, the demand for higher pay would be warranted.

But is that what ATEK should be doing?

Or should ATEK be doing what it has tried to do lately: inform new teachers about their rights and duties and help those who are in dire straits?

I applaud your wish to see Foreign Teachers work together to improve their lot. But working together requires a long-term vision and that is hard to reconcile with the transient nature of ESL teaching.

A simple example is the reality of a F-series visa teacher vs that of your average E2. One typically has kids, Korean in-laws and ties to his or her local community. He or she is a resident. The other is a short term (1 year) guest worker. Both can be great teachers but one has the long-term view while the other does not typically care for such things (natural view considering he or she will be in Korea for 1-2 years and move on).

Two last points....

Human Rights is a term that has been abused in recent years. Everything has become a human rights abuse and as such the term loses effectiveness in many places. Organisations that use Human Rights advocacy when it comes to English Teachers in Korea will have a hard time gaining support because frankly, I do not see how the case can be made on a consistant basis that Teachers Human Rights are being abused! Do some get into labor disputes, sure.

Lastly, when discussing higher pay and including my comment about raising the bar of selection, the impact on the support ATEK or another group would garner from ESL Teacher could be dramatic. In essence the move would raise pay but also raise required qualifications and workload. How many transient ESL teachers here for a year to pay off debts would support such a change? Then consider the legion of foreign teachers who fail to do even basic research prior to coming to Korea and do not even know their rights and obligations. The issue is complex no? Its not all about good teachers trying to improve their lot. Its also about people who come to Korea to pay off debts, travel and see the world and who hit the teaching wall full speed and blindly and then complain about human rights abuses all the while raking in illegal income raised through private lessons their visa does not allow. I know most teachers try their best but what ATEk is trying to do takes TIME. It will not happen in a year. TJ nailed it when he said change has been happening and is happening. If I compare between 1997b when I arrived and 2008 when I left, I can see vast improvements. TJ was also right when he said it may take 5-10 years before we see the fruits of ATEKs work (should it continue on the wiser path it chose when Greg became president).

In conclusion, were I still in Korea and teaching, I would be on a F5 visa and would now be interested in joining ATEK and getting involved.

Chris in South Korea said...

@Chris: ATEK is not expected to raise my pay - admittedly, that premise seems a bit absurd. But if the question becomes 'Has ATEK improved the everyday lives of English teachers in a quantifiable way?', where pay could be one factor, I submit the answer is no. That has little to do with ATEK and more to do with the national economy, the mindset of schools, and so on.

Regarding F- vs. E- visas, I suspect the line is blurring quite a bit. You'll always have the people who qualify and obtain a F-series visa because of their spouse or residential status, and there will always be people just here for a year (or less) that don't add much to the ongoing debate. But there is a middle ground here. Myself - I'm here on an E-2 visa. I'd prefer to be here on a residency-based visa, but the current system doesn't accommodate for that, so I'm stuck in the same visa I was when I first arrived. I'm not a 'temporary' person anymore, yet I don't qualify for a more permanent visa. After two years of life in Korea, I'm still on the short end of the stick - and there are people who've been here even longer than myself. To say one is just here as a guest worker assumes one doesn't care what happens to the country, which is simply untrue. Just because I don't have the same connections (e.g. a spouse and their in-laws) doesn't mean I don't care about what happens to this country. It MIGHT mean I have more to lose - yet unless you're an F-5, voting in a local election is not an option.

Regarding human rights - a person should have the right to complain to a government whenever an employer doesn't live up to their end of the bargain. There should be a due process somewhere in there, and a chance for your side to be heard. Unfortunately, even well-connected expats get screwed because the Korean government doesn't step into help, or the expat doesn't complain, believing that their complaint will hinder their future career prospects in the country. Perhaps we are not suffering from slavery, but the lack of freedom in one's personal life is appalling to some.

Chris said...

Thanks for the response Chris.

You make valid points but I maintain that what ATEK is trying to do will require time.

As for the visa issue, you fall in what I consider to be an 'in between' category. It is unfortunate and I do believe that the F2 visa is becoming available to people like you througha points system.

As for the human rights issue, I never said people should not complain! They should complain when they are confronted with labor disputes. They should however not call it human rights abuse when it is more a labor issue (ex: being paid late or not paid properly for OT) all the while not breaking their very own visa rules with private lessons as many people do to earn extra income.

The lack of freedom you mention puzzles me. If you would not mind, could you provide an example or two of what you mean by lack of freedom for English Teachers in Korea?


Chris in South Korea said...

@Chris: "...I do believe that the F2 visa is becoming available to people like you througha points system."

It's already available, and I wrote about it pretty recently. The point system is quite unfavorable to most English teachers, however; read the comments there for some of the primary issues.

"They should however not call it human rights abuse when it is more a labor issue (ex: being paid late or not paid properly for OT)"

Agreed - there is a difference.

"The lack of freedom you mention puzzles me. If you would not mind, could you provide an example or two of what you mean by lack of freedom for English Teachers in Korea?"

Sure. Let's say I want to write an article for the local newspaper. Or take some photos for a magazine. Under the E-2 visa rules there's no legal way for someone to make money at any job except for the one they're legally allowed to do (unless, of course, you obtain permission and clear it with Immigration / your employer). In short, there's no way to 'get ahead' when you're stuck making money at one place.

By the narrowest legal definition, anything that's not part of your job / contract is illegal. While it happens infrequently, a few people do get busted and deported for doing something outside the scope of their contract or accepting money for something - volunteering, acting in a local theater play, and so on. All it takes is a tip to Immi from someone that doesn't like you, and the full-on investigation starts. I don't know all the details, so please don't ask me about them :)

Chris said...

Well Chris in SK that is simply the way the visa rules are set up. Korea wants control over what foreign workers do on its territory while they stay there. That is not lack of freedom in the sense that its discrimation. It is pretty normal labor policy.

Making a RESIDENCY visa something that is not easy to obtain is also pretty normal considering that once you become a resident your legal status changes significantly.

All this is clear from the get go when someone comes to teach in Korea. The E2 is a sponsored visa that provides a guest worker permission to TEACH. As such, restrictions are normal. The issue can become difficult for someone on an E2 that stays for 5 year or more for example and that wishes a more permanent type of visa.

If someone wants to write for the paper or work in some other field than Teaching while on an E2, they need to obtain permission from their sponsor (employer) and immigration. Again, this is normal because Korea wants to keep some sort of control over what the foreign workers do in Korea.

If someone wants to work in journalism they should probably not come over on a teaching visa. Doing so and then complaining about not being able to be a journalist or web designer or some other type of work sounds a bit odd.

All of this cannot be called discrimination (not that you called it that but some people do). As for getting busted and deported it does happen to people who fail to respect the rules of their working visas. All too often this is because said people do not know or understand the rules of their E2 visa or simply do not care about any restrictions. All it would take in most cases is getting permission from your sponsor and immigration to engage in other activities that can be done legally.

It is not perfect as a system but as far as short term sponsored foreign worker visas go it is not that different from what you would encounter in many other countries.

Still, interesting debate...

Chris in South Korea said...

@Chris: Getting an employer's permission - and Immigration's blessing - is difficult to impossible most of the time. Anecdotally speaking, the thing you're looking to get permission for doesn't matter. Perhaps it is 'standard policy' and seems fair from the perspective of the country - but it sure feels a lot less than equal.

A compromise seems in order. As I've written about before, a person on a work visa should have the ability to accept a second job, so long as it doesn't come into conflict with their employer, isn't illegal, and otherwise complies with the laws and rules of Dae Han Min Guk. It doesn't threaten the jobs of any locals - if they were the best for the job they would've already gotten it - and doesn't require anything from an employer. Refusing such a request would be the exception rather than the rule, done only for a legitimate conflict of interest.

No, it's not currently being done in other countries, and I submit that most Western countries are somewhat behind in opening their jobs to foreigners. Isn't this one area where Korea could prove themselves to be a truly international community? Or is teaching English the only thing we're good for?

Chris said...

Teaching English may not the the only thing 'we' are good for but it certainly is what we are hired, flown over and housed to do.

We get a teaching visa, not a general work visa.

Permission may be difficult to get but then again we comeback to the word 'sponsor' and what that entails. You are not here on your own, you are sponsored to be here by an employer that vouches he or she needs you here for a specific job. That again is par for the foreign labor course.

Guest workers do not and in my opinion should not have the same rights as citizens. The legal status is different for one thing.

I do agree the procedure could be made more accessible and easier and you make reasonable suggestions. But asking for short term foreign workers to be put on equal labor rule terms with citizens is not reasonable nor desirable from the standpoint of any government.

You see it as your options. They see it as potential national impact. Two different ballgames there.

The system could definitively be better. But the work visa wil always be sponsored because it needs to be. There could be more flexibility in the visa but it will never be an 'open' visa you get like a tourist because when you come to work in a different country that has fiscal and legal implications.

A present a person HAS the ability to accept a second job provided the employer allows it. Again the employer is also your sponsor, never forget that. By and large, an employer would not object to a teacher working a second location as long as it does not affect his main employment duties. Some will object of course but many will not.

Then you get into the whole private tutoring issue. I hate to bring it up but it cannot be avoided. How many of us teach these private lessons illegally and then turn around and balk when our sponsor or employer enforces some legal restriction that comes with our visa?

This flows both ways no?

Still I agree that more flexibility could be introduced into the E2 visa system when it comes to labor movement. That may come about in due time.

Again, interesting debate.

kushibo said...

Chris in South Korea wrote:
@Chris: Getting an employer's permission - and Immigration's blessing - is difficult to impossible most of the time.

Having been in a professional capacity where I was tasked with hiring dozens of E2 visa holders and getting them second-job permission over the just ended decade, I have to steadfastly disagree with the description of it as "difficult to impossible."

Chris in South Korea said...

@kushibo: Admittedly, my statement was based more on anecdotal evidence. Since you've made it happen a number of times, any tips on how to do it? This might be worth a blogpost on your blog instead of just another comment :)

kushibo said...

It's not that hard. You need a clearly written contract showing how long you will be working and for how much, and it should be less than what your main contract is (your sponsor), and then you need a 동의서 (tong•i•sŏ, letter of agreement) signed by your sponsor, the money for revenue stamps (it might cost around 60K won).

Go there with a smile and a good attitude. Try to speak Korean, or bring someone who can. Smile.

Chris said...

Good work kushido!

This dispells many missconceptions about labor freedom.

I agree with Chris in SK that this is worthy of a blog post.

John said...

My name is John Wurth and I am one of the 'disgruntled former atek officers' mentioned by Greg Dolezal in this article. I have tried to post responses to this in the forum section and managers of KoreaBridge have deleted them. Anyone who would like to know about the truth of what is happening in ATEK please email me at with your questions. I have no problem telling you what is really happening. It is not disgruntlement as alleged here.

Chris in South Korea said...

@John: Sorry to hear about KoreaBridge deleting your comments - seeing as how they have little problem taking my blogposts I can't claim any responsibility over them.

If people are interested in contacting you, I will leave your comment as-is for their benefit. I have no intention of posting further on any 'he said, she said' stories, however. If you have more information about FREED, the organization's goals, or anything else moving forward, please feel free to e-mail me: chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com. I have been in contact with Barbara and have relayed the same message to her. Cheers.

John said...

Like Stephanie I am not involved with FREED. I have no connection to their activities other than that I happen to know some of their people.

This is not he said, she said. I have over 5,000 emails showing activities in ATEK. Some of which I am currently speaking with Korean prosecutors about. Others which include national leaders threatening to manufacture ethics charges against officers, attempts to threaten ATEK leaders with removal from their positions and alteration of their membership status, attempts to destroy records and evidence of activities in ATEK, spreading of lies and smear campaigns against ATEK officers, and many other things. Again, it's all in writing.

Chris in South Korea said...

@John: Apologies for assuming an association between you and FREED. The door's open for anyone wanting more information from you - but this comment board isn't the appropriate place for sharing such information by-and-large. Appreciate your conscientiousness.

John said...

I would appreciate the same opportunity to respond to ATEK that was given to Ms. White. As I'm sure would Ms. Waldern. Whether you agree with what we have to say or not it would seem to me that in the interest of full disclosure to your readers, and the interests of journalistic integrity that all parties mentioned in your article be given the opportunity to respond to the statements in the article. I would be happy to discuss it with you privately before posting anything. But again in the interest of journalistic integrity I believe such a conversation between us would be warranted

Chris in South Korea said...

@John: At over 2,500 words, this article is one of my longest ever. If your '5,000 messages' number is correct, I'm sure there are plenty more words to say on the subject. That's not the point of this comment - or this post.

Again, I am not interested in the 'he said, she said' aspect of this story. I can't say I'm particularly interested in any of ATEK's misdeeds, whether real or fictitious, and have little interest in hashing out personal dramas. I say that not out of a specific stance regarding ATEK, but as a blogger trying to stay close to the theme I claim for my readers' benefit.

Ms. White got the mention because I was specifically e-mailed on the subject. While I wouldn't say posting her e-mailed statement was a mistake, I would say it opened a can of worms I'd just as soon left closed. This is not a political blog, nor is it about personal feelings being hurt.

If you have something new to add about what FREED will become, what its goals are, or what the group is looking to do, I invite and welcome your e-mail. It may be worth a whole new blogpost. If your interest is in exposing ATEK's misdeeds, please consider the other platform(s) available to you.

Good night.

Chris said...

For what its worth, Chris in SK is right.

This is not the place to expose the inner fighting going on between ATEK, FREED and former ATEK members, especially if like John said, legal charges are being levied.

There are already a couple of threads on this on the ESL cafe and whats being posted there is not edifying for the parties involved.

John said...

Once again I am not a member, leader, or anything else with FREED. Therefore I cannot give you any information on that group. I would suggest contacting Ms. Waldern who I am given to understand is their main leader.

Your assumptions on my comments regarding atek are also unwarranted given that I have not shared any of my information with you. If you're not interested in that information that's fine. But please don't come to conclusions on it. I don't think that's requesting too much.

Thanks for your comments. Good night.


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