Some Hakwons and outsourcing companies for after school programs (ASP) are deliberately deceiving immigration and illegally denying English teachers medical insurance and other employee benefits.
“Some English teachers are being deprived of the rights that they are entitled to as E-2 visa holders because their employers and recruiters are exploiting loopholes in the legal system,” an official at the Korea Immigration Service told the Korea Observer Thursday.
Expat teachers are often not aware of their rights and entitlements.
One source said that when they were offered their current job their employer was very upfront about denying expats their legal entitlements.
“They said, we do not offer health insurance or pension. I didn’t know that these benefits are a legal requirement of the E-2 visa, I just thought it was something jobs offered as an added benefit, something to entice potential employees,” the source says.
“I would warrant most foreign teachers here don’t know. We know we need a visa, we know we need a sponsor, and we trust our employers.”
Another source, who wants to be called Dirk, was granted an E-2 visa with immigration in 2009 but his hakwon employer declared him an independent contractor without his knowledge.
He was then sub-contracted to four schools.
Dirk claims these schools paid his visa sponsor 650,000 won ($585) per month for him to teach there but he was never paid medical insurance.
“I had no idea it was illegal at the time,” he said.
He left this job nine months into the contract after becoming aware that his employer was also not paying tax.
Dirk was granted an E-2 visa but then employed as a contractor in his most recent job that he was forced out of by his employer.
Dirk worked for two separate schools. He does not know which school provided the visa sponsorship but his health insurance was not paid.
A labor advocate for foreign teachers advised that expats in Dirk’s position take a copy of their contract into the appropriate government department with a statement of the E-2 conditions and regulations.
“In the past that was enough to get them registered and on their way, with a bill sent to the employer with a small fine,” the labor advocate said.
Dirk mentioned visa issues to his employer and was then being forced out of his job.
He received a call from a real estate agent asking for the key to the apartment, three months prior to the contract ending.
The ASP provided this apartment as part of the employment contract and created conditions where Dirk would find another job.
He did not receive any formal notifications from his employer or the schools.
Dirk started recording his conversations with his boss and provided them exclusively to The Korea Observer.
“If either of these schools do not sign a contract with us that means you will lose one place of work. So this means you will only get two weeks of notice,” his boss says.
“I think it is better for you to apply for different jobs.”
After Dirk was forced out of this job, his ASP employed a young, North American female who he presumes will also be employed on an E-2 visa but registered as a contractor.
An official at the Korea Immigration Service said employers are no longer required to report income taxes of E-2 visa holders, making it practically impossible for the immigration office to detect the unethical practice of switching English teachers as freelancers instead of employees as promised when reporting to immigration.
“It is totally baseless that hakwons or those who run after school programs can hire E-2 visa holders as contract workers or freelancers,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.
“Hakwons or recruiters for after school programs (ASP) cannot hire E-2 visa holders as contract workers.”
He pointed out that foreigners would need a D-8 or D-9 visa and invest at least 100 million won ($89,000) in a company to work as a self-employee.
With a deep sigh he lamented that immigration has no authority over insurance and employee benefit disputes and is heavily understaffed to effectively crack down on hakwons’ unethical business practices.
“If you have been forced to work as a freelancer on an E-2 visa, report the hakwon to immigration so that we can restrict E-2 visa issuance to the problematic hakwon and provide a D-10 job seeking visa to you.”
An official at Seoul Global Center concurred with him, noting that it is mandatory for all hakwons to cover the half the cost of health insurance and other employee benefits.
Lee Tae-hoon, publisher at The Korea Observer, contributed to the article.