Public outcry, in every country, is often a precursor to government action. In January, 2011, South Korea began mandating that foreign English teachers seeking work on an E2 visa would require criminal background checks – no doubt as a result of public dissatisfaction with various crimes committed by foreigners. English teachers are often an easy target for public distrust in the foreign community, since there’s such a large number of them currently working here.Such a large number of them? There were almost 21,000 foreigners on E-2 visas at the end of May (of whom 1,100 or so were Chinese or Japanese (including 265 Chinese and 7 Japanese working as public school native speaking teachers). While there are also an unknown number of people on F-4 visas, being gyopo, most wouldn't stand out as much as white or black teachers would. So again, how do 20,000 E-2s compare to the other million and a half foreigners here? It's certainly not their numbers which make them a 'target for public distrust.'
As well, the Korean government did not begin mandating criminal background checks for E2 visa holders in January 2011. That policy started in December 2007, and the reasons for that were discussed in the article "Dear Korea: I Still Don't Have AIDS" from Groove Magazine's April issue, which can be read here (and is a condensed and altered version of a Journal of Korean Law article by Ben Wagner and myself). Problems with its implementation were discussed in a contemporary Joongang Daily article ("New visa rules may force some to return home"), but the criminal record checks [CRC], drug tests and HIV tests have remained in place (despite challenges against the latter) since then (though marijuana testing was removed in March 2008).
The January 2011 date comes from the expansion of the CRC into a Federal criminal record check (for the US and Canada) and the inclusion once again of marijuana in the drug test which was announced after a teacher in Daegu being investigated for molesting students fled the country in July 2010 (and was eventually extradited and imprisoned). Then in January 2011, the government announced it would more stringently regulate the E-2 drug tests, and in June 2011, amendments to the Hagwon Law were passed requiring CRCs and drug checks for all foreign hagwon employees regardless of visa, (something already being carried out by the Ministry of Education in public schools) though its haphazard implementation caused confusion with calls for repeat testing and new CRCs for those already working on E-2 visas. Then it was announced that in August 2012, drug testing would be expanded to half a million foreign workers, showing that once these kind of policies get put in place, the logic is to expand them, regardless of statistics, which are referred to only if they support preconceived notions; otherwise they're ignored. As I noted here, the 2011 drug arrest statistics - which were available to policy makers (if they cared to look) before they instituted drug tests for half a million foreign workers - there were 18.5 drug arrests per 100,000 Koreans, compared to 21.1 arrests per 100,000 foreigners, making clear the expansion of testing wasn't necessary at all.