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Those technical problems I mentioned…

I mentioned some technical problems with my work visa situation at the present. Those not interested in stupid loophole situations that will probably never happen to them, you may wish to skip over it and just know that I’m dealing with a pain in the ass. For those curious, though, I’ll get right into it and describe all the idiocies to you in vivid detail. Here’s the deal…

I went to the office yesterday to box up my things and go home to continue packing, and what do you know but Brian came in and told me that there was a visa problem I hadn’t known about for a month. Now, he did a lot of work to resolve it, so I don’t mean to complain about him as harshly as it might sound, but the problem had existed since before I’d even left Korea for Thailand, and I only found out about it yesterday. The Immigration office knows my phone number and my email, as well as my address. They could have communicated with me, but they didn’t bother. On top of that, Brian decided that since he couldn’t talk to all of us face-to-face, it’d be better not to tell us about the problem at all, not even by email.

So anyway, what happened was that we were “caught” working a camp without the proper work visa. Of course, normally under Korean law, working extra time or courses for your current employer isn’t something that one needs an extra visa for: if I pick up an extra course, or some overtime, or whatever, it’s not as if I need to ask permission, because that’s just part of work. But apparently, to work a camp, under Korean law, you need an E2 visa.

This hadn’t been a problem before because everyone had been working under an E2 visa anyway. But when we were promoted, many of us eventually ended up on E1 visas. Now, an E1 visa is supposed to be superior to an E2 visa — in theory, it allows longer stays without the necessity of renewal, as it’s designed for “real professors”. In practice, since getting one I’ve found little to suggest it’s a superior visa at all, and on top of that, it now turns out that having an E1 visa is not acceptable if one wishes to work a camp for one’s current employer. And while Brian tried to get the University to take responsibility for the mess, as it was, if anything, an Administrative screw-up (as well as a screw-up of Immigration, since the information was nowhere online) the folks at Immigration very firmly insisted that we workers, being responsible adults, ought to have known we should check. That’s a ridiculous claim, given that (a) the information wasn’t even available in Korean online, (b) that it’s never been a problem before, (c) that the camp was for our current employer, (d) that it doesn’t make sense for an E1 visa to offer less coverage to a worker than the supposedly inferior E2 visa, and (e) that you would have to be a frigging psychic to anticipate this problem. They even tried to fine us, until Brian said that all fines should be applied to the University and not to us individually.

In any case, because of all of this, I had to spend two hours sitting in a dismal little office in the upstairs part of the Jeonju Immigration Office, which finally culminated in my signing a Mea Culpa form — a document taking responsibility for a screw-up which as far as I’m concerned was actually just the local immigration department’s gleeful gouging of the University for a little money. Three of us were demanded to attend, and then patently ignored by the staff for two hours, and then given documents to sign which were, on top of all that, in Korean and illegible to us. I’ve been assured that this will not be a black mark on my record, but that on the other hand, should this kind of thing happen again, the fine will be much more than it would have been had I been penalized monetarily this time. I don’t expect such a thing to happen, but it still kind of burns me that this happened at all.

Which brings me to visa problem number two: while we were going over to the Jeonju Immigration Office, I received a call from my new employer, instructing me to go to the Immigration Office with someone from the school. The secretary who called me told me that the problem was just a little arcane but that it probably wouldn’t be a big problem and likely could be resolved very quickly.

I wish. What it turned out to be was this: when I handed in my letter of resignation at Jeonju University, I was asked to date my resignation effective February 28th, 2006. This, I assumed, was understandable, my resignation was removing one faculty member, and since this number is important to the school’s standing with regard to government funding and so on. However, I assumed — wrongly — that the paperwork for my new visa could be processed so that the new visa would be available to me for a visa run on March 1st, or sometime close to it.

Well, a whole series of delays prevented me from discovering otherwise. For one thing, Jeonju University sat on the issue of sending a Letter of Release to Catholic University — and to be fair, Catholic University sat on the issue of requesting it — for too long, and so that wasn’t received until about a week ago. Secondly, Concordia University in Montreal — or the courier used by the University — screwed up in sending my transcripts twice (or someone in the Academic Affairs office at Catholic University lost them twice), and I had to have a friend pick them up and FedEx them directly to the secretary.

All of this added up to my visa paperwork not even being started until the beginning of last week, which, without snags, would have been, well, adequate. Except that there is a snag.

It seems that when you are currently holding one kind of visa for one employer, you cannot apply for another kind of visa with another employer, until after the date on which you are released from your previous employer. That is, if I am on an E1 visa until February 28th, I can’t even apply for a new E2 visa with a new employer until March 1st at the soonest. Given that processing times are now projected at “around two weeks”, it means that I wouldn’t legally be allowed to go on a visa run — let alone start teaching — until March 15th or so.

I’m not sure what workarounds are possible. One is that the Seoul Immigration Office said they might be able to speed up my visa processing so that I could do the run a little earlier, maybe missing only a week of the semester instead of two. Another is that my date of release could be changed slightly — to, say, February 23rd — in order to have the paperwork processing begin sooner, although the secretary at the school is saying that would now be illegal since a document with a prior date was issued. This sounds fishily pedantic to me, but it may be true.

Another possibility that occurred to me is that perhaps, if I were to move schools but come under an E-1 visa, I wouldn’t need to go through the this whole process. If a worker on an E2 visa changes jobs with 3 months or more remaining on the current E2, a new visa is not required. Perhaps this is also true of an E1 visa. I will call the school tomorrow to ask whether this might not be an option worth exploring, since I could always be relegated to an E1 visa at the start of my next contract, or at the end of the current visa, which is dated sometime this summer.

All I can say was that it was not how I planned to spend my first day back in country, sitting in the Immigration Office for hours on end. I swear, it was enough for me to say to myself that I really do need to find a way out of this country sooner or later. When I told Lime that, she understood completely, and recounted another of her own “I don’t get Korean culture sometimes” experiences.

It was herdy/groupthink stuff that baffled and annoyed her; I won’t get into it now. Instead, back to packing, throwing out trash, weeding through the clothes I won’t wear, and all kinds of other fun business.

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