November 2, 2010
Ministry of Health and Welfare officials say they plan to submit a bill to the National Assembly that would scrap mandatory HIV testing for foreigners applying for certain visas. Those seeking non-professional work in South Korea on an E-9 visa would no longer have to submit HIV test results or be tested to renew their residency status.
Currently, those seeking an E-6 entertainment visa to work more than 91 days either must submit HIV test results or be tested within 72 hours of arrival. About 4,000 such visas are granted each year. They are commonly sought by singers and dancers for work in bars and hotels, as well as by athletes.
Last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged South Korea's former Health Secretary Jeon Jae-hee to end mandatory HIV testing of foreign workers. Just last month, the Ministry of Justice repealed automatic deportations for foreigners testing HIV-positive while on entertainment and non-professional work visas. The repeal has been submitted to the National Assembly for confirmation.
Under the health ministry proposal, HIV testing would still be required for language instructors seeking an E-2 teaching visa.
"Education is considered a very intimate relationship," said an official with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. "According to an unofficial survey by the Prime Minister's office, the majority of parents wanted solid evidence of their children's teachers' HIV status ... it is just intended to reassure parents."
Last year, an English professor with Kyung Hee University filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission over the HIV testing requirement. Several other English teachers joined Benjamin Wagner's protest. Wagner claimed the visa requirement reflects unfounded perceptions about Westerners as being promiscuous and drug users.
In July, a group of lawyers filed a petition against the requirements with the Constitutional Court.