Monday, November 2, 2009
A Change for the Better
I've had a certain disagreement more than a few times with more than a few people since coming to Korea in August of 2007. Korean or foreigner, I usually just can't seem to see eye-to-eye with many on this issue.
When I arrived then, the process for obtaining a working E-2 visa to be an ESL instructor at a hagwon (private after-school academy) was actually relatively simple. I don't remember the specifics of that process, but I do remember that the following year, the process changed dramatically. I won't bore with all of the details - they involved multiple visits to the Canadian embassy here in Seoul, very specific background checks from my hometown police department, signing and double signing, waiting for documents from Canada to arrive in Seoul, signing them, sending them back to Canada and waiting for them to return to Seoul again.
The things is, pain-in-the-ass that it certainly was, I didn't really have a big problem with most of it. Background checks are pretty much a given for anyone working in a "care-giving" position. The Criminal record search for applicants looking for an E-2 visa to work in Korea is now to include a "Vulnerable Sector Search" - basically a check to see if anything that might have been excused from an actual criminal record, but involved indiscretions with children, elderly, or anyone else in a "vulnerable position". I really have no problem with those with a criminal record for an criminal act involving children NOT being allowed to work with children in the future.
What I've always had a problem with however is the medical tests that were instituted as part of the visa application process last year. Upon your arrival in Korea, you are submitted to two tests (through blood and urine samples) - one for any presence of cannabinoids (basically - "Are you a pot-smoking hippie? Or, "have you been one within the last two months?"), and a test for the HIV Virus.
I get the initial intent behind both tests, I suppose. But that doesn't mean that it's right. I'm going to leave the drug question out of this blog - mainly because it's the other one that I want to deal with, and it's the other one I have the biggest problem with.
I guess I should start by saying that I find it offensive that a country could dictate whether or not a person can enter its premises based on their carrying a disease of the nature of the HIV virus. Basically, this is my problem - those concerned with the immigration of HIV positive people into their country, it seems to me anyway, are doing a great deal of assuming. They are assuming that these "carriers" not only have let the disease compromise their ability to do their jobs properly, but they also seem to be suggesting that by carrying the HIV virus, this pretty much guarantees that the carrier is going to engage in massive amounts of deviant behavior - spreading the disease like wildfire while on the Korean peninsula - "Close our borders! He'll rape your children with his mouth!"
Let's just call this what it is, shall we? It's discrimination - pure and simple. Why is that so? Once you submit a foreigner to a medical test that you wouldn't submit a national to, you are discriminating. No teacher who is a Korean National requires such a marijuana or HIV test - care-giving position or no - yet any foreigner who arrives to do that same job, goes through a series of tests. Should you test positive in either category, expect to be denied entry quicker than Andrew Dice Clay applying for a position in prenatal care.
And it's not just teachers. Today, not one, not two, but three different teachers posted this link to a New York Times article about how South Korea is "struggling" with race. Read it - it may surprise you. In addition to the Death-Eater-like teaching of "pure-blood" desirability among many Koreans, you will also read that the now plentiful Southeast Asian workers who are taking the labor jobs that few Korean-born people want, are also subject to HIV tests that their Korean co-workers do not have to deal with. As Andre 3000 said: "I know you like to think yo shit don't stank...". But, seriously... lean a little bit closer, people.
The mere suggestion or assumption that "outsiders" are not only carriers, but deviant and anarchy-bent parasites is a very dangerous one to hold. I wonder what the government is able to do with all of the HIV-positive Koreans who don't know they carry the disease, or do know and don't want to do anything about it. Presumably, as the immigration regulations will reveal, the government could care less, as long as you are a Korean National.
The good thing is, good and powerful people are recognizing this as a fault. Just today, I was reading that Barack Obama has lifted the travel ban on HIV infected persons entering the United States. Apparently this has been in affect since 1987. Forget getting a job - without special permission, HIV patients wouldn't even be able to set foot on U.S. soil. I had been told this was a common thing, but I didn't think it could be possible. South Korea is apparently not alone in its prejudice.
But there is a movement afoot to turn things around. I couldn't be more pleased. To assume that some HIV-infected guy or gal entering your country is going to be a threat to your citizens, is just plain ignorant, offensive, and backward. To deny them entry is to play Minority Report - you are telling that person that they cannot come to your country, because you believe that they will one day commit a crime. Said crime has a name: The Criminal Transmission of HIV. While people capable of such crimes surely exist, it's simply a mistake to suggest that all carriers will, or even tend-towards such acts. People abhor the use of racial profiling in airports, but many seem to not see the same folly here.
Well, I guess some of the people who legislate change do see it. South Korea's own Ban Ki Moon, the UN's current Secretary General, applauds the move. The following is from an Associated Press Article found today at The Huffington Post:
"Such restrictions, strongly opposed by UNAIDS, are discriminatory and do not protect public health," the program said.
Ban has made the lifting of stigma and discrimination connected with AIDS a personal mission, first calling on countries to lift their travel restrictions in 2008 at a UN meeting on the disease.
The travel restrictions "should fill us all with shame," Ban told a global AIDS conference in August 2008.
According to UNAIDS, Ban's home country of South Korea is "in the last stages of removing travel restrictions," while China and Ukraine are among countries considering following suit.
"Placing travel restrictions on people living with HIV has no public health justification. It is also a violation of human rights," said UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe.
On Friday, as he signed a bill reauthorizing funding for a federal program providing HIV-related health care, Obama announced the repeal of the travel ban, describing the 22-year-old policy as a "decision rooted in fear rather than fact."
"If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it," Obama said. "We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the Aids pandemic - yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people with HIV from entering our own country.
"On Monday, my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year."
Mr Obama added: "It will also take an effort to end the stigma that has stopped people from getting tested, that has stopped people from facing their own illness and that has sped the spread of this disease for far too long."