Passports and Immigration and “Low Quality Foreigners”

Well, headaches averted, really. So far.

I’ve been a bit of an ostrich, not paying attention to the whole Korean news/expat blog scene, and it came up and bit me in the back end last night. I came across these posts — like this one — that bespoke a big change afoot in Korean visa renewal procedures. The last I’d heard, those living here didn’t need to worry about that, but this sounded more complicated. Things like having to fly to Canada every time I get a different job, for example, or needing a criminal record check for March 1st. Which was pretty shocking since according to the RCMP, it takes 120 days to get a criminal record check.

But we called the immigration office today, and were told that the implementation date has been moved to March 15th — probably, I’m guessing, to simplify the process for foreign profs working at universities, since the timing was particularly bad for that sector of the foreign population, what with a great many visas being up for renewal by March 1st. That is one big headache averted, though I think it’s a good time to go ahead and order a Criminal Record Check since, in Canada, the processing time is, as I mentioned, 4 months at minimum. (Lime is going to order one, too, since she’ll probably need one at some point.)

I’ve also finally sent an email off to the British Consulate at Lilongwe to see whether they have any record of me being registered as a British citizen in 1974. I have all the paperwork I need, I think, to apply for a British passport, and should be getting that application done in March, once my holidays are over. (I would do it sooner, but I’ll need my passport for my upcoming holiday travels.)

So, in a year’s time, if I am working in Korea and still am not on an F-class visa — ie. not yet married to Lime — I’ll need to have a criminal record check plus a medical check to make sure I have no major infectious diseases (HIV, for example) or drugs in my system. They also check for “alcohol addiction,” which amuses me to no end… talk about your double standards.

All of this said, I don’t necessarily think that most of the stricter demands are all that onerous. If the requirements were implemented in a sensible way, it might even weed out some of the more pathetic of the expats living here. The disconcerting thing, though, is my sense that all of this really just constitutes a kind of public relations stunt, where the government’s making a big show as if they’re taking the (silly) issue of “low-quality foreigners” seriously.

I’ll be honest: I have a dichotomy in my head that divides Westerners in Korea into two categories. One is people worth being around, and the other is people completely not worth being around. I wouldn’t quite go so far as to use the term “low quality” to describe the fratboys and alkies I put into the second category, but I might use something that awkward if English weren’t my first language.

However, I’m not very surprised at the vast numbers of people here in the second category, and the relative scarcity of people in the first. There are all kinds of reasons for this, which I won’t get into, but the immigration system is a part of it. Korea’s very easy to come to, or was in the past.

The thing is, there may well be a shortage in teachers in the future. After all, if one has to go through a bigger rigmarole to get into Korea than to get into Taiwan, and the pay is roughly the same, people will likely go to Taiwan instead. This may have effects in Korea, such as an increase in the kinds of uncomfortable requests people make for private lessons or extra work at someone’s uncle’s friend’s hakwon. That would be bad. If the government is demanding more of us — trying to make sure we’re more qualified and better-suited to live here — then one would imagine they might be a little more lax in what’s allowed to us. Legalization of private lessons or other freelance work, for example, and the establishment of a system by which teachers could engage in this work while diligently paying their taxes, would be a sensible thing, especially considering that we’re the people most qualified to teach the language, and that private lessons (especially in small groups) are — often — the most effective approach.

But I really doubt such changes are in the works. This looks more like a case of tightening the belt for the sake of showing it can be done. Showing that one can be systematic and tough on undesirable immigrants is one thing: being systematic in a constructive and useful way is wholly another.

Anyway, I need to figure out where I’ll be holidaying from mid-January to mid-February this year. I think I’ll try get all my classes planned ahead of time so that when I get back — and during next semester — things will be less hectic.

8 thoughts on “Passports and Immigration and “Low Quality Foreigners”

  1. Heh. I used to live, and do private lessons, less than five blocks down the street from the Immigration Office in Seoul. The family I would do lessons for had done government work in the past, so usually one or two weeks before an immigration “crack down” they would take a break from lessons.

  2. Alcohol addiction? Double standard aside, how do you check for alcohol addiction anyway? Hold a glass of whiskey in front of someone and see how long they can resist it?

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post.

    All English blogs so far have just been so critical of this new visa procedure that I had given up on reading something not as extreme.

    When I went teaching French in the USA, I was asked for a criminal record. I have to say that I now find it highly amusing to see the American bloggers with their “how dare the Koreans ask us this”. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black…

    As you say, if it becomes harder to come to Korea, maybe the fratboys will go elsewhere.
    I sure won’t miss them.

    The ones coming to teach here will have at least shown a real commitment, and it can’t be bad.
    One can also hope that if there’s a shortage of teachers, then, maybe, we might be treated a little bit better. Yeah, I guess you can call me an optimist for this…

  4. Mark,

    Yes, it’s one of those things that even most of the people enforcing don’t believe in, the illegality of private teaching. Sad, that.


    Yeah. I mean, I have a slightly fatty liver, and the doctors asked whether I drink much. I told them no, and they said causes number two and three were fatty food and being overweight. I imagine some combination of a fatty liver and some kind of blood analysis would be used, but really, I wonder how many Korean professionals — especially doctors and government bureaucrats — would pass such an inspection? There are a few foreign alkies here but usually that’s an open secret, and they’re tolerated if they function passably well. But yeah, the one standard alcohol addiction test that I’ve heard of is the EuropASI, which seems like a psychological test — a series of questions. False negatives would be common, one imagines… so I’m guessing it’s a blood test, probably looking for enzymes that indicate heavy alcohol consumption. Maybe an ultrasound of the liver? Or maybe this new blood test?


    Yes, but don’t forget that I consider it mostly a political stunt in reaction to one pedophile. (Though there are surely others in-country; I ran across one guy who bragged of being thrown out of Taiwan for such an act.)

    If the Korean government makes it harder to come, there may well be a shortage, but I don’t imagine we who remain will necessarily be treated better here. In fact, I’m a little scared of how much of an increase in “demands” put on us might occur. It’s a social annoyance I could do without.

    The other thing is, a lot of sane, rational potential English teachers — the ones who aren’t lifers, but are competent and would be good for a few years — will probably gravitate to where it’s easier. After all, I wasn’t a TESOL genius when I first came here, but I certainly couldn’t have come for my first job if it had required a long wait for a criminal record. I don’t think US hiring practices, or French ones, are anywhere near as last-minute as hiring (and so many other things) are here in Korea.

    Those who complain about the need for a criminal record check are silly; those who complain about the need for a criminal record check in a timeframe that is impossible by the rates of the countries where most foreign workers come from are more understandable. If the date for implementation hadn’t have been changed, my post would have been far more negative.

    Also, one point of comparison is Japan. It’s long been more demanding for foreigners to get themselves set up in Japan than in Korea, or so I’ve heard, but there are still a lot of dumbass white frat boys running around there. So maybe it won’t affect much except reducing the flow of those teachers not quite specifically interested enough in Korea to to brave the process, but not so unqualified as the frat boys who are so common here now.

    After all, the good-foreigner/bad-foreigner dichotomy leaves out a huge patch in the middle, which is people who are fine, do their jobs as well as your average Korean in the same position, but aren’t particularly brilliant… qualified enough, but not superstars. Frankly, the pay and conditions in most positions here aren’t good enough to attract superstars, which is part of the reason there are so many losers here — better pay and conditions, as well as hiring based on skills and qualification instead of more superficial factors, would have the standard effect of making better competitors apply and win the majority of jobs, leaving the frat boys back home in Oshawa and Frederickton and Minnesota or wherever.

    Also, I think it’s crazy to require someone to get a visa for a new job in his or her home country. Any country outside of the one where the job will be worked should suffice, and it’s a ridiculous expense to require for no apparent reason, especially for those flying to Canada, the USA, Europe, or Australia. I don’t know whether that particular rule has been scrapped, but it’s annoying that something as dumb as that is included in what, as I say, could instead have been quite a sensible piece of legislation. (Likewise the annotation of diplomas; the use of sealed, signed transcripts sent from the Universities where the applicant graduated directly to the hiring organization should suffice, just as — to my knowledge — they do in the rest of the developed world.)

  5. I’ve had background checks done by the RCMP before, and thought they had an expedited process for people trying to get a VISA.

    I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to eliminate the fratboys – teaching English overseas is always going to attract people who are naturally risk takers.

  6. Mark,

    Do they? I looked at the website and it said 120 days, and that there’s no possibility of an expedited fee, but maybe I’ll look into contacting them. They seem pretty backwards, really: you can’t even download the form, they have to mail it to you. What century is it in Canada?

    That’s funny — I never thought to consider frat boys as “risk takers” seeing as they’re such ovine conformists. I think we may never be rid of them, but culling their numbers would probably result if it were a pain in the ass to get here. However, since there’s no attendant increase in incentive to come here, it’s not as if qualified teachers are going to flood in to take up the slack. (Well, maybe some of those who lost their jobs in Japan, but I suspect lots of them will also go to places easier to get into.)

    This isn’t necessarily bad if, like me, you think the collapse of the hakwon industry would be a good thing for Korean society in the long run. But it could in the short run be troublesome, since it’s such a big industry here.

  7. Thanks for the link to my blog. After reading a bit of yours, I’m a bit envious. Nice blog….

    Well, I appreciate your post about immigration. It will be interesting to see how the country reacts to what does happen to the heightened restrictions. It’s something that should of been implemented a long time ago, but their implementation has been weak. It’s sad to say after the 10’s of thousands of English teachers that have been here to teach, the gov’t offices still can’t communicate that effectively to the English speaking public at large. We’ve got a few years to go, I guess (& I hope the sooner than the later)….

  8. Brandon,

    Thanks. It’s just a blog. :)

    I see what you think. I also happen to think it’s sad how few foreigners here bother to try learning the language… and my own laxness puts me in the bad as well. In most countries, foreign workers have to deal with the government in the local language, even if, ironically, the officials we’re dealing with got their jobs based on (ostensible) English tests like TOEIC.

    The reality, though, is that Anglo foreign workers are the biggest foreign worker population here, and most of them are relatively transient and unlikely to learn the language… so it would be easier for everyone concerned if they’d just have at least some English-capable (and Chinese-capable, and Japanese-capable) peoplework at each immigration office, and there must be at least one person in the Ministry who could be assigned to putting forth official translations of official documents in English translation and in a universal file format.

    (The use of .hwp files for online publication of rules pertaining to foreign workers — in Korean only — was stunningly frog-in-a-well if you ask me. I’ve told students time and time again that the only people in the world who use that wretched excuse for a word processor(1) are Koreans, and that for anyone else, they should use the more universal .doc files or .rtf or even .txt file formats. Apparently nobody’s mentioned that to the government. Or maybe they know that very well and didn’t intend the original announcement to become too public, knowing a panic would ensue and that the date was going to be changed but not wanting to dilute the original “tough stance” by mentioning it?)

    I too am curious as to the social reaction — is any — but really, after some reflection I’m not sure what the heightened restrictions will achieve in the long run, except stopping those 빨리빨리 hirings like mine was, all last-minute, from going through successfully. It’s not going to be that much harder, especially to the people who spent time thinking it over to begin with. This will only really keep out criminals and people too cheap to pay $25 for a background check. I know very few people who couldn’t get past that, and moreover, since the checks can be done from here, at least for Canadians, it won’t really weed out the flakes already here, at least not so effectively.

    Who knows, though?

    (1) I have experience with the Hangeul word processor, and find it wretched on its own merits. I’m not putting it down because it’s Korean, even though sometimes Koreans think so, and take it as a national insult that I despite the nation’s favorite word processor. At least one Korean I know who translates professionally intensely dislikes the program and confessed bafflement as to why people continue to use it when so many alternatives exist.

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