The Supreme Irony

Just a reminder, folks. If you’re here on an E-2 visa, it is indeed illegal for you to do editing work on the side.

And from what I’m told, you don’t even need to be paid for it to be illegal enough for you to get into trouble: doing things on a volunteer basis still requires you to register with the local immigration office. (I had it direct from the Jeonju Immigration Office bigwig: even if you choose to volunteer at an orphanage, you need permission from your employer and you need to register with the Ministry of Justice — which encompasses the Immigration Office.)

It may not be enforced; it very rarely is. But then again it may be, and if you offend the wrong person, don’t be surprised if it does. Either way, doing work other than whatever’s in the contract of your primary employer — the one who is “responsible” for you in terms of your visa —  is illegal…

… and yet this will not prevent people, even people whose job it is to uphold the law — and I don’t mean mere beat cops — from asking around for someone like you to edit something for them, offering it as a paying gig.

Such as someone from the Chief Prosecutor’s office, for, oh, hypothetical example.

Who, incidentally, seems unconcerned with the fact that it’s illegal for me to take this small, simple editing job. If indeed he even knows the fact.

9 thoughts on “The Supreme Irony

  1. somewhere out there, there’s a whitey laughing into his curly-haired sleeve, unable to tell a soul (on pain of deportation) that he is private tutor to the minister of immigration

  2. Indeed, a commenter here noted — I think it was in a comment here, in fact — that while he was living in Seoul, he privately tutored the kid of someone working in the Immigration Office in Seoul, and that sometimes he’d get a call saying lessons were off for a while because a crackdown was coming. (If I remember rightly.)

    I wonder, indeed, who thinks this is a good law. I haven’t heard one Korean person say it is, so far, and I’ve heard many Koreans laugh at it, mock it, or declare it inane.

    I guess it’s useful when you want an excuse to deport someone for other reasons, though.

  3. I guess it’s useful when you want an excuse to deport someone for other reasons, though.

    Yes. Maybe that’s what its primary purpose is. Or would that be too functional for the system?

  4. Is there any higher level of visa a non-citizen can get? Perhaps editing work for the immigration department can be parleyed into an upgrade?

  5. It’s amazing how difficult it is to do things like that legally too. I would never bother with it myself, but if I wanted to tutor English around Busan, then I would not only have to obtain a seperate liscence from each individual(!) Gu office for each Gu in which I had students, but file seperate tax statements and so forth to them too.

    (For those that don’t know, a “Gu” is like a 3-4 suburb-sized administrative unit in Korean cities).

    Like Julia implied, having rules like that for the simple purpose of deporting undesireables would indeed be too logical and functional for the system. Having said that, the National Security Law, for instance, definitely does at least partially remain for the ease with which it allows the government to arrest labour leaders and so forth. It makes owning Das Kaptial, for instance, illegal, and I think Amnesty International reported once that at least 13 or so Koreans are still arrested each year for technically their mere possession of it, or pro-NK stuff and so on. Can’t image that they’ll be arresting univerity library heads or myself for the same any time soon though.

  6. Julia,

    Yes, appropriate cynicism indeed!


    Actually, from the information I turned up, it’s technically impossible for someone on the visa I’m currently on to move to the sort of visa that allows any work aside from teaching. I’m not even sure I’m allowed to write and publish my writing in Korea (like, say, a short story) — but writing something on contract is clearly illegal for someone on the kind of visa status I’m on. Technically, I’m not even sure whether blogging is something I have a legal right to do (some people have expressed doubts, but in a loud, exaggerated way); if someone does tell me I don’t have that right, I’ll be screaming to high heaven and taking it to court, because enough is enough. (But I should note that this blog is being hosted not in Korea but in Hong Kong.)

    It’s also very rarely enforced, but someone as vocally critical of the current Presidential administration as me ought to have at least a sliver of paranoia in him, just in case events conspire to put me on the radar at some point anyway.

    (But I’m not too worried right now.)


    Yeah, ridiculous how many impediments there are do doing things legally. Little wonder so many have a strong disdain for the law, when it seems designed to hamstring people. (As I find it’s just as baroque and silly for Koreans to get things done.)

    Maybe you and Julia are right. Then again, I’ve seen just enough stuff in the news about people being deported or fined to wonder.

    (I even had a friend who was blacklisted from E-2 status in Korea because… now, let me see if I have the story right… her boss hired her to work at the YMCA, but the courses there were not full, so the boss sent her to make up the difference at some hakwon owned by him. She thought this was legal, as she was his employee, but she wasn’t; she was the YMCA’s, and his sending her over to the hakwon was illegal. She was picked up, detained, interrogated, and then sent back to finish out her contract.

    She wasn’t even notified about the blacklisting (which was in effect for 5 years) until years later, when she had lined up good jobs for herself and her fiancé and then applied for her visa… only to discover, well, you know.

    Sometimes, one thinks of Kafka and grins knowingly.

  7. I wonder if one can take this sort of thing as a barometer of freedom in a society, whether leaders abide the by laws civilians have to…which of course says interesting things about some of the countries that have marched in and made Korea their business . . .

    Some sociologist probably does. I should do some research.

  8. Val,

    It’s quite possible. At the same time, a double-standard for legalities is a very old tradition here, so I see it more as a holdover from the agrarian monarchic past… the kind of thing we see in a “low trust society,” as sociologists call it. (I’m getting the term from a sociology text on modes of informality that I’m reading for some reason…)

    Once you have a low-trust society, one where “amoral familism” seems to be the norm (also discussed in the sociology book I’m reading, but Joe Mondello discusses the applicability of the term to Korea here, among other places, and I agree with most of it, the Jesus/Dawkins comments aside — a number of non-religious people taught those ideas, even before Jesus, so it seems to me that it’s a bit like crediting L. Ron Hubbard with inventing the space opera). Once you have that, and a power imbalance in the society (and there’s always a power imbalance) then this kind of thing becomes all but unavoidable.

    Which may explain the massive focus on “fairness” here, even when “fairness” is completely impracticable, and to the exclusion of generalized improvement of a system. (Education is a huge example here: concern for fairness has dominated so strongly that quality has lagged far, far behind. Class sizes here are a pretty interesting index of that. They’re often HUGE.)

    I suppose there are differing problematics of “freedom” in high-trust and low-trust societies. Many people here seem to enjoy much greater freedom of movement, and much less internalized obligation to follow laws. The other night, coming back from the beach, at least five people by my count were driving like utter maniacs and endangered the lives of others on the road. I suspect Koreans see that sort of behaviour as stupid, as selfish, but not quite as immediately as we do, as “illegal.”

    (EDIT: I note this because a number of Americans I’ve known here have described life in Korea as much more free than life in America. You needn’t show ID for a beer, you can park wherever you like, there are less-strict rules about all kinds of things, you can hug children students without being fired, compliment co-workers on their appearance, date co-workers. Some date their adult students, though it’s frowned on and a bad idea, at least while the person is your student. Political correctness hasn’t made inroads here at all, in a lot of settings. So you can see how white guys would say that here. Koreans experience it differently in some ways — family obligations are more intense than we can often imagine, for example, as are professional ones in some relationships/settings… but it seems like fewer rules dominate one’s conduct when one is out of any specific context, like when one is driving home from work.)

    Which reminds me of Bong Joon-Ho’s comment about The Host, which was that Korean seeing corruption is like a fish swimming in water. What does illegal mean when the law is rarely enforced? It means the law does not rule, some other system does. The Nth time you see an older man berating some young cop in his 20s for having the temerity to pull him over for speeding, it just sort of clicks in your head. Laws here aren’t laws in the way we think they are.

    Except sometimes they are.

    Last thing: I’m told nobody drove like maniacs or broke even minor laws under the dictators. This chaos of lawlessness, at least among the masses, seems to have come with greater freedom. But maybe it’s just democratized lawlessness, previously enjoyed only by the elite? Hmmm.

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