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UN rules Korea’s mandatory HIV, drug test for foreign teachers violated human rights

The UN Human Rights Committee recently concluded that South Korea had violated the international human rights law in mandating foreign teachers take HIV and drug tests to be issued or granted the extension of visas.

In a finding dated July 31, the committee ruled in favor of a petition filed in 2013 by an American teacher, and requested the government to provide adequate compensation to the petitioner.

The policy was introduced in December 2007. The HIV testing part was scrapped in 2017, following the recommendation of the UN and Korea’s National Human Rights Commission, but the drug testing remains in place.

Stock Image (123rf)
Stock Image (123rf)

But during the nearly decadelong period the policy was in place, thousands of foreign teachers wishing to teach here with E-2 visas had to undergo blood tests for HIV and drugs. Several had filed complaints against it.

The case of American teacher Andrea Vandom occurred in 2009, when she sought to renew her E-2 visa at the Immigration Office in Suwon in February that year. Vandom, who was hired to teach English at a private university in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, in March 2006, refused to provide the test results, citing the policy’s discriminatory nature and violation of her rights to privacy and dignity.

In her petition, Vandom said she received letters and “summons” from the immigration office and had been pressured by the university. She resigned and left the country in July 2009.

Before leaving the country, Vandom raised the issue at the Constitutional Court. But the court dismissed her petition, citing that she was not under a mandatory requirement to submit the test results because she was already in the country with a valid visa. The claimed requests and summons from the immigration office therefore merely encouraged voluntary consultations and examinations, it said.

Vandom petitioned the UN body in 2013, claiming that the intent of the E-2 visa policy is “to reinforce negative beliefs about the moral character of non-Korean teachers,” which led to biases such as news reports that often depict foreigners as criminal suspects.

While the policy requesting HIV/AIDS test results from foreign teachers has been scrapped, the drug test is still in effect.

Despite the UN body’s findings, an NHRC official told The Korea Herald that it was unlikely the government would compensate individuals based on the recommendation of a watchdog organization.

“While the recommendations and rulings of entities like us may influence the policies, there is not a legal system (for doing so) or legal grounds that obligates a state to follow through compensation procedures for individual petitioners,” said the official In Sun-young. 

The Justice Ministry did not respond to requests to comment as of press time.

By Jo He-rim (
catch table
Korea Herald daum