A South Korean student who has been studying here legally since 2005 was jailed Saturday night and subsequently released, even though he had returned to Israel with a visa issued by the Israeli Consulate in Seoul, The Jerusalem Post learned Wednesday.
According to attorney Amit Acco, a partner at Kan-Tor & Acco, which specializes in immigration matters and visas to Israel, Hwang Juwon was returning to resume his studies at the Jerusalem College of Engineering, but was arrested upon arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Following calls from the Post to the Interior Ministry asking why a person with a valid visa was jailed, Juwon was released from custody and his lawyers reached an agreement with the ministry about his future here. The ministry did not otherwise respond to the Post's queries.
"This is a person who has always been here legally and should have had no problems obtaining a visa to study in Israel," commented Acco, who had already petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court to allow his client to remain in Israel.
"There is no evidence that he is a foreign worker and I really believe that he should stay in Israel."
Acco, who was supposed to represent Juwon at an emergency hearing on Thursday, told the Post that he believed the Interior Ministry had "confused him with an illegal migrant worker.
"I really think this is a big mistake," said Acco, adding that in the agreement reached Wednesday with the Interior Ministry, Juwon must not work under any circumstances.
Juwon's girlfriend, who asked to remain anonymous, fearing that the Interior Ministry might cause her visa problems in the future, told the Post that her boyfriend had already started the semester at the engineering college and partially paid his tuition fees.
"We are students," she maintained. "We do not have any money, of course, but we have never tried to work here.
"We love Israel and want to study here," she continued, adding that sometimes it took Korean students longer to complete their degrees here due to the language barrier.
"I am not angry with the Interior Ministry," said the woman, who is a student at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. "I just want life to go back to normal."
There are currently a few hundred students from South Korea pursuing studies at various academic institutions here.
A spokesman for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told the Post that at the Rothberg School for Overseas Students there are 56 South Korean students registered.
"Our policy is to officially notify the Interior Ministry of all foreign students registered here," he said. "However, we do not have capability to influence the ministry in any way."
He said he was unaware of other students having problems with their visas.
However, Sungon Kim, a South Korean student at Tel Aviv University, said that this problem did come up from time to time, because many of the Korean students stay for longer than expected in order to finish up their courses, mainly due to the language barrier.
"This is an awful situation," he commented. "He is a student and he had a visa but they still would not let him come in."
According to Acco, there is no doubt that his client was and still is a student in Israel. Prior to enrolling at the Jerusalem College of Engineering, the man completed a Hebrew language program at Machon Milah in Jerusalem and a preparatory studies year at Hebrew University.
In the past, said Acco, he was able to renew his visa at the consulate in Seoul and when it ran out this past September, he was told that to renew the visa at the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem could take up to four months. Not wanting to be in Israel illegally for a lengthy period, the man returned in November to Korea and applied for a student visa at the Israeli consulate there.
"He did everything the Interior Ministry told him to do," said Acco. "But when he arrived back to Israel this week, it was listed in the computer that he could not enter and he was immediately jailed."
Acco, who has dealt with several similar cases in recent months, said that if this man is deported, a stamp in his passport showing he was denied entry to Israel could cause problems for him if he tries to enter either Europe or the US.
However, Acco said he was confident that the presiding judge would accept the man's story and allow him to continue his courses here.
"Korean people coming here are not coming to work," he said. "They pay a lot of money in order to study here and love Israel. I believe it was just a mistake."