Thursday, December 30, 2010


The Korean immigration office is baffling.

To be fair, in any nation, immigration offices and all other bureaucracies can be baffling. Also, thus far, all of the immigration agents that I’ve personally dealt with have been very nice, much nicer than your average DMV worker.

When I first came to Korea in 2006, one needed an original diploma, sealed transcripts, and a passport for an E2 visa. Simple enough. Of course, the first time I changed jobs, I needed these same materials again. Diploma and passport, no problem, I had the originals. However, I needed new sealed transcripts, had to have them sent in from the states. Why? Was there a chance my college grades would change years after I graduated? Of course not. Regardless, I got more transcripts, this wasn’t a difficult matter.

When I returned to Korea in 2009, things had changed. I still needed the original documents, but now I also needed a criminal record check from a state-level agency, and it had to be appostilled and notarized. I still don’t really know what “appostille” means, and my computer spell-check doesn’t recognize it. Basically, I had to go down to one specific cop shop in the Baltimore ghetto, fill out some forms, get fingerprinted, mail everything off somewhere, wait a couple weeks for my record check, then drive it down to Annapolis to have a lady in the secretary of state’s office staple something to the paper I already had. Now I was almost legal to get an E2. Upon my arrival in Korea, I had to get a health check, which was basically an AIDS test and a drug test.

In the summer of 2010, when I was renewing my visa to work at the same job that I already had, visa regulations had of course changed again. Now, my transcripts (I brought a stack with me this time) and diploma were no longer valid. No, now I needed a notarized and appostilled copy of my diploma. The reasoning, from what I understand, is that people were forging diplomas and transcripts. No surprise. I’ve been to Bangkok. Anybody can buy a fake Harvard degree from any number of shysters on Khao San Road. Then again, I’m sure these same guys started selling fake appostilled copies the day this law went into effect. As I was in country and dealing with my university (during summer vacation no less) would take to long, I had another option - verifying my degree through a Korean agency that specialized in this matter. Of course, all this agency would have to do to verify my degree would be to call my university and say, “So, this Jaehak guy, did he really graduate? Oh, he did? Cool.” For this service, I paid $60 and waited nearly 2 months. It turns out I was one of the lucky ones - this agency became so backlogged by others like me that they had to shut down.

Now, it gets worse. State background checks are no good anymore. Now, for an E-2 visa, Americans have to get an FBI background check. It will likely take 6 months to get done. I spoke to Immigration today, and they are being cool about it, they understand the time and know that I can’t just hang out for 6 months before I get a job. However, this makes it especially difficult for anybody back home looking to get a job here, as they now have to start planning 6 months in advance.

Also, like the transcript thing, I have no idea why I would need a current American criminal record check. Since my original CRC in 2009, I’ve been, um, in Korea. How could I have possibly committed any crimes in America during that time?

At least they’re easing up on the AIDS tests, at least in theory. The “E” class of visas in Korea are employment visas. Mine, as noted, is an E2, which is used for English teaching jobs. E2 visa applicants are still required to take a test, but having the HIV may not, in some circumstances, preclude somebody from getting a visa. In its infinite wisdom, Immigration has fully stopped testing E6 visa applicants. What is E6 for? Technically, it’s an “entertainment” visa, used for TV talent, musicians, dancers, and such. In practice, the vast majority of E6 visa holders are Filipina and other Southeast Asian whores, finding jobs as “singers” or “dancers” in the country’s many brothels. That’s Immigration logic in a nutshell. English teachers are a menace and a risk to spread AIDS amongst the pure-as-the-driven-snow local populace. Prostitutes, on the other hand, have no chance to spread any sort of social disease.

A final odd note about Immigration - the English. I called Immigration earlier this week and went there today. Both women that helped me were very kind, and their English was passable, though broken and far from fluent. I went to H&M in downtown Seoul to buy a couple things yesterday. The guy who rang me up seemed to speak fluent English. The guy that works at the convenience store down the street speaks fluent English. I don’t understand why it is that I can frequently run into random Koreans working $7 an hour jobs that speak perfect English, yet the government agency in charge of dealing with English speakers on a daily basis rarely puts English speakers on the front lines. I suppose it makes no less sense than my former school, an ENGLISH school, where none of my bosses spoke a word of English.

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