Sunday, February 5, 2017

Incompetence of Immigration

After 5 long months, I finally have my new visa to work in Korea.  For those who are close to me, you know how frustrating and stressful this process has been, but for those who don't I will detail that experience for you in this post.

It all started when I was changing my job and moving from Incheon to Seoul.  While working in Incheon I had an E7 working visa which was for education specialists.  However, I knew I was likely going to be working in a hagwon (academy) rather than a school, which requires only an E2 visa.  Seeing as this was a less special visa, I was assuming that it would be easier to obtain and that all my documents that I submitted for my E7 visa would still be valid, but I wanted to make sure just to be safe.  So I called the immigration office and they confirmed that indeed my documents would transfer and that all I had to do was bring in my new contract and they could begin processing my visa application (a two week process).  I even asked if the criminal background check I submitted two years ago was still valid just trying to cover all my bases and they said that if I had not lived outside of Korea for more than three months it was still valid, so it was all good.

Then when I finally found my new job, I went to the immigration office with this new contract and quickly found out that this was NOT all good.  As they were looking through my documents they came across a problem.  They told me that my background check, which I had specifically asked about over the phone, was not apostilled (a document certifying its authenticity) and therefore could not be accepted.  When I told the lady that it was accepted for my E7 visa she told me that it was not necessary for an E7 visa but for an E2 visa only, which makes no sense.  I then asked, since it was still a valid background check, if I could just send it off to get it apostilled, to which the answer was no.  I had to get a whole new background check which is at least a three month process usually, and that's not including the apostille.  I told the lady that I just took a new job and could not wait three months to start work, and she basically said that there was no other way.

So faced with this serious problem I quickly had to come up with a solution.  It was illegal for me to work in Korea until I had my E2 visa and my job was obviously not going to wait three months for me to start working.  Luckily, I am blessed with a creative mind and MacGyver-like problem solving skills.  So I came up with the solution that I would work at my school as a "volunteer" until I got my visa, upon which they would then backpay me for all the time I had worked.  It kept things legal and my school was happy, and I had enough savings to last me until then so it all worked out.  

There was still one small problem.  This meant I was in Korea technically under a tourist visa, which is only 90 days.  Seeing as how I felt this process would likely take more than 90 days, I would have to make a visa run (go to another country for a short trip and then come back to Korea with a new tourist visa which would give me another 90 days).  There was another option however.  I could apply for a D10 visa which is a "job seekers" visa and lasts six months.  So I made another trip down to the immigration office (after calling again and asking about the process), but when I got there I learned that they had changed their policy and now you have to make a reservation to make an appointment at the office.  They told me there was a computer in the back of the room where I could make my reservation.  Luckily for me there was still an open time for that morning, so I booked it.  After waiting for about an hour, I began to see that the number on my ticket was not going to be reached by the time of my scheduled appointment, so I went up to the counter to ask about it.  It was then they told me that I cannot make a reservation for the same day, even if the time is available, and that I would have to make another reservation for another day, which I begrudgingly did.

Three days later I made yet another visit to the immigration office to apply for the D10 visa, all of these visits required missing time at work by the way.  As we were sorting through the paper work, I informed them that I would traveling to Mongolia the next week and asked if this would complicate things at all.  The lady (who was the same lady I would talk to for all my visits) told me that if I leave the country while my D10 was being processed still that it would cancel the application.  However, it is perfectly fine to leave the country once I had the D10 visa.  This was yet another policy that makes no sense and only adds to complicate everything.  I had already planned and paid for this trip, so there was no way that I was not going.  Sensing my frustration, she told me that she would talk to her supervisor about trying to process the application quickly, but that it was very unlikely and that the only way I would know was when I went through immigration at the airport.

Well the time for my trip came and I nervously passed through immigration, but nothing was said.  Still I was unsure if it had been canceled and they just didn't say anything or if it would only be canceled when I came back to Korea.  Well after an amazing trip to Mongolia (read about it here), I returned and again nothing was said.  I took this to mean I was accepted somehow, which was the first good news I had gotten through the whole process.  Now I just had to wait for my background check.

I was able to work through a channeler which helped speed up the process. I then had the background check mailed to my parent's house in USA, who then mailed it the U.S. Department of State to get it apostilled, and then mailed it completed to me.  Now with my documents completed I went again to the immigration office to begin my application for the E2 visa.  Well, so I thought.

Arriving at the office the took my background check, but said that I now needed a NEW contract from my school since the last one had my starting date back in August and my starting date had to be after my application had started.  So I had to go get a new contract, return back to the immigration office on another day and finally process my application (this was now December by the way). 

Relieved that my application process had finally begun I returned to work that day.  As I was getting off work, happy to have all this mess behind me, I was getting on the bus to go home and then out to celebrate when I got a phone call from immigration.  The woman on the phone immediately apologized and told me she had bad news.  What's new right?  She said that I still needed to do a medical check-up before my application could begin.  Livid, I ask why this couldn't have been told to me months ago so that I could have done it in the meantime.  All she could do was offer me sympathy, which I wasn't interested in, as I vented my anger out on her.  After about 5 or so minutes of a verbal tongue lashing, I asked, "I had to do a medical check when I got my E7 visa two years ago, does that not count?"  I shouldn't have been surprised by her response, but I still was, as she said, "You did? Hold on let me check your records".  After finding my medical check she apologized for the inconvenience and informed me that she didn't see it before and this was all a mistake.  I was relieved that I didn't in fact have to get the medical check, but at the same time I was shocked by their entire offices level of incompetence.  I was told that all I had to do now was wait two weeks for the application to finish and I could pick up my visa after that.

I called every week asking if it was ready, dealt with rude incompetent workers on the phone, and it was still a month before they told me that I had been approved, but now had to wait for the card to be printed.  The good news about this was that I could now begin working legally and receive all of my backpay, which was perfect timing because I had just burnt through all of my savings in Korea.  Still it wasn't until almost a month and a half later (this last week) when I was finally told my card was ready.  Even though they had told me that they would call me when it was ready, it took me calling them to find this out.

So last Friday I made what I hope to be my last trip to the immigration office to finally pick up my visa and put an end to this very long, very frustrating process.

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