Amidst rising concern at home and abroad over the trafficking of migrant women, the Korean government has come up against criticism for having tolerated and even aggravated the problem with its poor management of visas.
On August 29, there was a 'roundtable discussion to review the situation of prostitution in US base camp communities and to eradicate sexual human trafficking.' At the discussion, Lee Geum Yeon, co-representative of the Human Rights Solidarity for Women and Migration in Korea, pointed out that "the government is acting as an intermediary in international human trafficking by issuing E-6 visas to foreign women when it is fully aware that the women are forced into prostitution in night clubs or US army bases."
The E-6 visa, categorized as an arts and entertainment visa according to the Immigration Control Act, is issued to "individuals seeking profit in the entertainment business such as acting, music, theater, sports, advertising, modeling, etc." The "individuals" here include those employed to act or perform in tourist hotels and bars.
The Korea Association of Special Tourism Businesses, the legitimate organization of club owners operating around US army bases, began importing women from the Philippines in 1996 to distribute to member clubs. Every year, more than 20 thousand foreign women enter Korea on E-6 visas and work in these clubs that form a human trafficking ring. It is estimated that currently, there is a total of 100 thousand such women across Korea.
The Ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Culture and Tourism, and Labor are all involved in the issuance of E-6 visas. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is responsible for controlling performance permits, and the Ministry of Labor for controlling worker dispatch business permits. The Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs and Trade have exclusive authority over the application and issuance of visas. Despite being fully aware that the administrative system for performance permits and visa issuance has become a tool for human trafficking, the government agencies are not doing anything to improve or abolish the system, thus provoking criticism.
"For example," says Representative Lee Geum Yeon, "Six Vietnamese women in their twenties were offered jobs in a Korean sewing factory. But as soon as they arrived in Korea, they were taken to a club in front of the US army base camp in Songtan and forced to dance in their underwear." Lee revealed that when they checked with the Immigration Office of the Ministry of Justice, they discovered that the immigration office was already aware of the situation, hinting the possibility of collusion between the Ministry of Justice and the club operators over the issuance of E-6 visas.
Kim Hyun Sun, representative of Saewoomtuh, says, "Although the foreign women's passports indicate their age as 21~22, most of them are in fact minors aged only 15~18. Even if they are deported, they often re-enter Korea using different names." Kim called on the relevant government agencies such as the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs and Trade to take much stronger measures.
The Human Rights Solidarity for Women and Migration in Korea, Saewoomtuh and other women groups demanded that the Korean government abolish the practice of issuing E-6 visas for 'performances in tourism businesses.' The women also asked the government to refrain from deporting the victimized women should they ask for help.
The Police Agency recently set up a simultaneous interpretation system for foreign women victimized by human trafficking, but because of lack of protective measures for these women, they are handed over to the Immigration Office and deported as soon as their existence is revealed.