Monday, March 14, 2011

Renewing a Visa

There are four different kinds of visas that people have in order to teach English. They are the F-2 Visa, the F-4 visa, the E-1 visa, and E-2 visa. The F-2 visa is for people who are married to Korean citizens or people who qualify under a rigorous point system. The F-4 visa is for people who are Korean adoptees, former Korean citizens, or whose parents were Korean citizens and did not register their child's citizenship with the government. The E-1 visa is for people who work at a university. The E-2 visa is for people who work a a public school or who work at a hagwon, a private after-school academy.

The only visa that I am qualified for is the E-2 visa, like the average English teacher in Korea. When I first got the visa, they had just tightened the restrictions. Americans had to submit an original diploma with two sealed transcripts and a state-level criminal background check with an apostille. (A sample apostille is on the left. It is the certification of documents that will be used for foreign purposes. All countries that signed the Hague convention in 1961. For more information about apostilles, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostille_convention.) In addition, they had to undergo an interview at the Korean consulate. When I applied for the original visa, fulfilling the education verification was no problem; I just had to wait a bit because I was offered the job before I had actually graduated from college. I also did what was necessary for the criminal background check in Washington state. I received everything that I had needed the day after I got home from college and sent everything off. Then, I was informed that my criminal background check did not have a apostille but rather, a state-level notarization. Then, we had to travel to Olympia to the state police to get another notarization and an apostille. At the police office, we had to wait until the person notarizing it came back from lunch. At the Secretary of State's Office, we found out that a new employee had made a mistake, necessitating the whole trip. I did eventually get my visa, but it took a bit longer because of other people's mistakes.

I have been in Korea now for nearly three years and have been through a few renewals. The visa is good only for as long as one has a contract; therefore, the contract visa expiry date is the same as the contract end date. I've been working for the same school the whole time so I have not had to make any visa runs to Japan that other foreigners have had to make as the E-2 visa must be obtained from outside of Korea. However, anytime that a foreigner changes schools within the same company, the school location changes, or the school is purchased by another company, it must be reported to immigration. The first couple of times that I renewed by visa, it was pretty cut and dry. All I had to do was submit the new contract, my passport, my alien registration card, 30,000 won (around $30), and a couple of documents from the school that certified that they could legally hire foreigners as English teachers. After that, it became a bit more complicated.

I was up for a visa renewal at the end of October. However, the visa rules had changed since the last time that I had renewed my visa. As of September 1, 2010, the certification of education had changed and so instead of submitting an original diploma and two sealed transcripts, I had to submit a photocopy of my original diploma with an apostille. I found out about this only eight weeks before my visa was to expire and I needed to apply for the visa extension four weeks before it expired. For candidates who were already in Korea, it was possible to have the Korean Council for University Education verify it, but it would take 4-5 weeks. The school had dragged their feet on it and so they said that it would be quicker to have somebody in America get an apostille in person.

The school did not really know what needed to be done to get an apostille issued. I got an email from somebody in headquarters saying that I could have a friend or relative take it to the nearest local place that issues apostilles, as if they could just go down to the corner and get an apostille. In addition, they were telling me that I didn't need a notarization, but I had done the research into what needed to be done and a notarization was in fact necessary. In Washington, it is necessary to get only a notarization. However, in Ohio, one must get a notarization and the a certification from the clerk of courts fo the notary's home county before it can get an apostille. Since I graduated from college in Ohio, it was best to get everything done in Ohio to make sure that it would go through as documents needing an apostille needed to be notarized in the same state in which one requests the apostille. I cannot have a document notarized in Florida and then get an apostille in New York; I would have to get the apostille in Florida. I tried to explain to them that I am from Washington state and I graduated in Ohio and it was a long trip to do everything in person, but they wanted me to have a friend or relative do it all in person because it could be done immediately. (I don't know what they would tell somebody who had no friends and was a ward of the court until age 18.) I ended up sending the documents to Ohio and Hiram College took care of it for me thankfully. It was a frustrating experience for me because they were putting pressure on me to have somebody do it all in person but they didn't understand that doing it all in person was at least a three-day trip. After being on pins and needles for quite some time, I finally got everything and then went down to the immigration office. Within two weeks, everything had been processed and I had my visa.

Now that we changed companies from a franchise school to a corporate school, it is necessary to report it to immigration. In addition, my visa needs to be extended by four months. Therefore, I need to follow the rules that started on January 1, 2011. I need to get a national-level criminal background check; the state-level one isn't valid anymore. For Americans, that means getting a background check with the FBI. In addition, it needs an apostille from the United States Department of State. I was informed of this just this past week, but I told them that it would take about three months to get the necessary documents. The people in corporate headquarters know more about visa issuance than at the franchise school so it is less frustrating. Right now they aren't on my case so much about having somebody do it in person, which would have to be done in Washington, D.C. Also, somebody sent me an email with a paper I had to sign so that until I got the FBI check, maybe they could get a third-party check.

The day after I found out I'd need an FBI check now instead of later in the year, I went to the Haeundae Police Station. Throughout the district there are neighborhood police stations, but they don't do fingerprinting. So, I had to go to the main police station in the district, which is accessible only by bus since the nearest subway stop from it is at least a half-hour walk away. I went before work and I thought that it would be just one big building with signs directing people where to go. I went into one building and went up the stairs, but cleary I didn't know where I was going so I left that building. I started walking towards another building and then the police officer who was the sentry at the gate asked me where I needed to go. I told him I needed fingerprints and then he directed me up some other stairs outside. He told me that I had to go through a side door. I felt like I was sneaking into the place because there was no sign and it was not a main entrance into the building. One of the police officers fingerprinted me using the form that I printed from the FBI's website. Afterwards, he made a copy of the paper and of my alien registration card so I guess now my fingerprints are going to be in the Korean system. So, I had better keep my nose clean now. The next day, I sent the necessary documents through express mail to the FBI. I sent the documents necessary for the apostille to my dad since the FBI doesn't send the criminal background check to another government agency. Now I am waiting for all of that to get processed.

With all of the government red tape that one has to go through, it is no wonder that people immigrate illegally. The new regulations for the diploma, in my mind, is less secure than before. The notary is only verifying that it is a true copy. S/he is not verifying that I actually graduated from a real institution of higher learning. I can get an apostille on just about any document that has a notarization or other state certification. I've read on other people's blogs that the FBI background check isn't any better because typically crimes that are on a rap sheet are ones that are comitted over state lines or federal crimes. It does not have a record of every crime I've ever committed in every state.

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