I was just over on Facebook when I came across a discussion about "saving" the "children of Korea." Some well-meaning foreign folks having a discussion about all the weirdo foreign teachers one occasionally comes across, as well as the stories that swirl around.
On the subject of English teachers, hiring policies, and overall quality, I've written extensively on this subject already, as many of you already know,
One of the problems with this conversation, as well as with the English teaching community in general, is that the population is such a transient, temporary one. We have to see things big picture. Not only could Korean employers have been doing whatever "checks" were possible but didn't, some hagwon owners actually don't care, or even don't actually want legal teachers. That way they can be paid less and have no legal recourse. It's a part of a bigger structural problem related to the dirty, interested business of English education in Korea.
The real way to solve the problem is to create the ability for real, qualified foreign professionals of every stripe to more easily be in Korea – offering an extended visa status similar to the ones kyopos have with the F-4 (on which one can live in Korea freely, and change or have multiple employment as one wishes), or even creating a permanent visa status would allow professional and good English teachers, say (the qualifications to get this visa might be having lived in Korea for at least 2-3 years, have no criminal record, confirmations of all certificates and degrees double-checked by the government instead of letting the foxes guarding the chicken coop).
Now, you'd be allowing the formation of a professional, experienced class of English teaching professionals, who, although wouldn't be perfect or without certain weirdos, would generally be a more guarantee-able group of people, who are, by their actions and choice to stay here longer, demonstrating a different level of commitment to their teaching, the culture, and the country.
On the market level, you'd be rewarding the ones who do good jobs, allow them more mobility in the ability to choose good jobs over the bad ones (imagine if a foreigner with this visa could stay in Korea without being linked to a specific, possibly bad employer, or wouldn't have to worry about a previous employer making future employment prospects difficult), and the market would be more stratified.
Teachers with the "good visa" would be preferred, and the good jobs in the English teaching market would adjust to attracting the "good teachers" who would have the option to reject bad jobs. Disreputable hagwons would never get the "good teachers", and the market would work itself out quite nicely, I think. Reputable hagwons would succeed in getting the "good" teachers, and for the sake of self-interest, the formerly "bad" hagwons would have to either shape up, or watch enrollment fall.
And a possible side-effect is that larger numbers of foreigners would stay to get that better visa, which would be renewable say, every two years, like the F-4. The market might even attract more people into its pool. In any case, losers and bail jumpers, criminals and people with fake degrees wouldn't be in the "good visa" pool, which itself would steadily expand.
Now, there'd be a built-in preference for and recognition of experience as a foreign professional. In the Korean way of thinking, I guarantee that you'll see a preference for this status ("Our school only employs Z-1 visa holding foreign professionals") and the supply side of this equation being able to flex its power in a healthy way, which this market sorely needs.
The main problem is that you'll never improve quality in the supply if they're temporary and the standards are set by the lowest common denominator of what disreputable hagwon teachers will pay, as well as what the market (and the 22-year-old kid fresh out of college) will bear.
I observe this positive change already happening with F-4 visa holders in my own group of friends, acquaintances, and professional connections. Many of these people are professionals, perpetual grad students, artists, activist, and other people doing random things here in Korea. But we're all pretty smart, do interesting stuff, contribute a lot to the country, actually, and (most importantly to creating this small group of people) we can take or leave a job anytime we choose, and employers don't have to be burdened with any additional paperwork in hiring us.
We've got alien registration numbers, permanent addresses, and pay taxes. So we're hired just like any other Korean is. And that gives us great, great power. Not in society, per se, but we can't be fucked with easily, since we'll quit. And then go to their rival (as I did).
We aren't a large enough group for any of our former employers to learn any lessons, but imagine if a large group of foreigners had this visa status? Employer fucks with you – bye! Doesn't pay you – bye, bye! And you can stick around in the country to sue them and win, preferably from the distance and safety of your next job. That would be nice.
Anyway, this will never happen.
There will continue to be "crackdowns" that never work, in the same way that "diets" are inherently doomed to fail, a few people will be made scapegoats, and the Korean media will have a few egregious cases to exaggerate into representation as normal "foreigner behavior."
And there will continue to be no incentive for a hagwon owner to hire a conscientious, hard-working foreign teacher with exacting professional standards over a warm body who might be illegal but costs half as much and has no legal recourse in the event they are screwed. And if they don't show up for class, the owner will just find another warm body to replace them with.
After all, this is standard that the English education industry in Korea has created.