On Sept. 24, Yonhap News reported that National Assembly Representative Lee Gun-hyeon had released crime statistics pertaining to native-speaking English teachers and stated that crime by foreign English teachers was at "serious" levels. I find it curious that he thinks this way, because according to the statistics he released, the foreign English teacher crime rate is actually quite low.
These statistics say that 114 crimes were committed by foreign English teachers in 2007, and 99 were committed in 2008. According to the Korea Immigration Service, in 2007 there were 17,721 teachers on E-2 visas working in Korea, and in 2008 there were 19,771 teachers. Therefore, in 2007, 114 out of 17,721 teachers were convicted -- a crime rate of 0.64 percent. In 2008, 99 out of 19,771 teachers were convicted -- a crime rate of 0.50 percent.
According to a July 9, 2008 Chosun Ilbo article, the Korean Institute of Criminology reported that in 2007 the overall crime rate among all foreigners in Korea was 1.4 percent compared with the 3.5 percent rate among Korean citizens. In other words, according to Lee Gun-hyeon`s own figures, the foreign English teacher crime rate (0.64 percent) was more than five times less than the crime rate among Koreans (3.5 percent) in 2007 and half the rate of other foreigners living in Korea. And yet, for some reason Lee calls this low crime rate "serious" and in need of more measures -- beyond the criminal record checks, degree checks, and health checks for illegal drugs and HIV that those who receive E-2 visas must already undergo.
Unfortunately, Lee is not the only member of the National Assembly to make exaggerated statements regarding foreign English teachers. In early June, Representative Choi Young-hee submitted three bills to the National Assembly obliging foreign English teachers to present criminal record and health check documents before they can be hired at public or private schools or academies. When she announced these bills, she said that 38,822 foreigners were issued E-2 visas and entered the country in 2008, but 22,202 were not accounted for. That the Korean Immigration Service had lost track of 22,202 foreign English teachers was troubling information, to be sure, but what was even more troubling was that she used the wrong set of immigration statistics to determine this figure. The source she used was a document listing those entering and leaving Korea by visa type, which presents a much higher figure than the statistics which list the number of foreigners residing in the country. The correct statistics for 2008 show that at year`s end, there were 19,771 foreigners in Korea on E-2 visas. It likely doesn`t need to be pointed out that mistakenly announcing that 22,202 foreign English teachers are missing is likely to cause undue worry and suspicion in Korean society of this group of foreigners, but when the Korean Immigration Service pointed out this mistake to Choi`s office, no correction was ever issued.
Additionally, the purpose statements of the three bills Choi submitted to the National Assembly stated that "the crime rate among native English teachers is rising." Representative Kim`s own crime figures, however, show that 114 teachers were arrested for crimes in 2007, 99 were arrested in 2008, and 61 were arrested in the first eight months of 2009. If the trend for 2009 continues for the rest of the year, not only would we see a drop in the crime rate over three years, we would also see a drop in the absolute number of teachers being arrested -- hardly indicative of the "rising crime rate" Choi uses as the rationale for introducing these new bills.
Lee said that "recent crimes by foreign English teachers are causing the anxiety of students and parents to grow." It might be suggested that it is instead ill-informed, unfounded, and alarming statements made by public figures like Lee and Choi which are contributing to this rise in "anxiety" students and parents are said to feel towards foreign English teachers.
The opinions expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily represent those of The Korea Herald -- Ed.
By Matt VanVolkenburg