What is it about the psychology of immigration policy?
So I’m out here teaching a camp in South Uljin county, the bad side of the least interesting part of the second least interesting province in South Korea, and seeing how the camp is run has made me realize that the real result of all these new E-2 visa regulations that Korea is trotting out and the historic slide in the U.S. dollar will not be a huge raise in the wages of English teachers in Korea. It is far more likely to be a complete delegitimization of the whole E-2 visa process. Already at camps like this the whole question of visas is simply laughed off. They aim for F visas (Family, including overseas Koreans and spouses of Korean citizens), which are legally allowed to work camps, and they end up accepting anybody with a pulse, with extreme priority given to whites.
This is what’s going to happen to most of the hagwons here in Korea. They’re going to abandon the whole E-2 visa process whenever possible rather than obliterating their profit margins by raising wages.
And that is exactly the situation with migrant workers in the States. Rather than paying much higher wages for legal workers, otherwise law-abiding contractors are using illegal migrant labor. Authorities turn a blind eye rather than pursuing the issue and bringing farming, construction and landscaping to their knees. Here in Korea the visa question is similarly glossed over by authorities, especially out here in places like Uljin where they’re just happy to have the foreigners come. They can’t be getting picky about the lawfulness of their working conditions, because to do so would mean facing having no teachers.
So why do people have these impulses to limit immigration at the very time when they need it the most. I wonder if it doesn’t have to do with the power that these in-demand migrant groups have. The more the U.S. depends on migrant laborers and Korea depends on foreign English teachers, the more they resent the dependence, and the more they rankle at it. Their irrational response is to throw up the fences and batten down the hatches against this onslaught of inmigration of their own making.
It’ll be interesting to see how the two situations play themselves out. As an F-2-1 (spouse) visa holder, however, I believe I’ll be watching from as close to the sidelines as I can get.