South Korea closes B.C. school: 14 teachers caught in 'bureaucratic nightmare'

South Korean immigration officials are forcing the closure of an international B.C. school and ordering 14 teachers, certified by the province, to leave the country for a year.

‘We have been treated like criminals': Move raises questions for other B.C. offshore schools

Kristen Hendricks, a Grade 3 teacher from the Canada B.C. International School (CBIS), sobs as she recalls her arrest by immigration officials on April 11 in South Korea. (Faustus Salvador/Youtube)

South Korean immigration officials are forcing the closure of an international school that teaches the B.C. curriculum and ordering 14 B.C.-certified teachers to leave the country, according to the B.C. government.

The Canada B.C. International School (CBIS) was suddenly ordered out of South Korea on April 11.

Immigration officials have ordered it to stay out for a year in the first phase of a crackdown on international schools.

B.C.'s Ministry of Education posted an update on the school on April 27.

It confirmed that "the school recently confirmed to the ministry that it did not have appropriate local licensing."

The post said improper visas have been revoked.

'Nightmare' ordeal

Teachers begged the ministry for help. They now will be paid until June. Travel out of the country will be covered by the school, said the ministry on its website.

"We have been treated like criminals. We bear the brunt of this bureaucratic nightmare. Please let us understand how we can be left to be responsible for this," said Margaret Hwu, who teaches Grade 6 at the CBIS school in Seoul.

CBIS staff say they need more help from Education Ministry officials after being ordered to leave South Korea within 30 days, despite holding federal government endorsed E-2 visas for ESL teachers.

Teachers are now being told these visas, which have been used in other offshore schools, are no longer sufficient.

Korean immigration officials have warned school staff the crackdown will hit other offshore Canadian schools, as teachers are required to have E-7 visas in order to be professionally accredited.

But federal advice on teaching English in Korea does not mention such a visa.

The CBIS school crackdown raises concerns about four other South Korean-based schools where many B.C. educators teach the B.C. curriculum using the the same work visas recently revoked by Korean immigration officials.

These schools license course material and stream revenue back to the province, part of an international student industry that provincially, in 2013, was worth $230-million  — and more than $7-billion Canada-wide.

CBIS is one of 42 offshore schools where thousands of students follow the B.C. curriculum.

Five of these schools are in Korea and others operate in China and other countries.

CBIS, run by South Korean-based Han Jong Hee CBIS Corporation Ltd., has struggled with administrative issues, staff say.

Canada B.C. International School (CBIS) staff say they were suddenly ordered out of South Korea on April 11. (B.C. Government/Youtube)

"We tried our very best to keep everything together while the school was falling apart," Hwu said on the Skype video call.

She fears this will leave a permanent mark on all the teachers' passports, affecting future travel.

The 160-student school had recently been inspected under B.C's certified offshore school program.

"My heart goes out to these teachers. This program had the stamp of approval of the B.C. government," said BCTF president Glen Hansman, who called for accountability from ministry officials.

A teacher in a classroom at the CBIS school in South Korea. (BC Government/youtube)

Visibly shaken teachers spoke out in a Skype session on April 14 with B.C. Ministry of Education administrators, including the executive director of International Education, Brian Jonker.

"We are trying to push for a speedy resolution," Jonker told the teachers.

Brian Jonker, the executive director of International Education, listens as 14 teachers tearfully describe their plight after South Korean immigration officials ordered them out of the country. (Mediaoutreach CBISIT/Skype)

Trouble began April 1 when two teachers were detained at the airport in South Korea.

Now, staff at the school have learned that the institution they thought was B.C.-approved was operating in a "legal grey zone." 

While E-2 Visas are commonly used by foreign teachers at Korean Hagwon or "cram schools," where students study to improve test scores, the government has suddenly decided they are not appropriate for other schools, said Alexander Hebb, a Grade 5 teacher who sent an email to CBC.

"We were unaware that we were working in an illegal situation, as our employer obtained the visas for us. Some of us will be separated from families and friends we have formed in Korea over several years, but what concerns us deeply is that all B.C. offshore schools in South Korea are also operating illegally with E-2 visas."

A publicity shot for the international school that teaches the B.C. curriculum in Seoul, South Korea. (BC Government/youtube)

He said immigration officials showed up at the school on April 11.

Teacher Robert Flower spent much of his life in South Korea and is engaged to be married to a South Korean woman.

Now, he says his future is in jeopardy.

Another teacher tearfully described how she was ordered out of her Grade 3 class to meet four immigration officials, driven an hour away and questioned for hours.

"I had to confess out loud to something I didn't do wrong. Now, I'm a criminal. My life is here, and it's about to be taken away from me because of something I didn't do," said Kristen Hendricks.

Global Affairs Canada responded April 28 saying they were aware of the matter but must respect that it is the sole prerogative of every country to determine who is allowed to exit or enter.

"Consular officials cannot intercede," said Natasha Nystrom, media relations officer for Global Affairs Canada in an email Friday.

The B.C. Liberals have not responded to calls so far.

About the Author

Yvette Brend

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@CBC.ca @ybrend

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