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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.

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