Down at immigration, the search for logic continues

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Down at immigration, the search for logic continues

Korean-English dictionaries define the term Geunyang “as it is,” and it is used colloquially to mean “whatever,” “just because,” “plain,” or when dealing with Korean Immigration, “your question is one that requires the use of logic, which is expressly against our internal policy.” Living in Korea, one quickly learns that logic plays no part in dealing with the government.
Recently I married a lovely Korean woman, and having done so, commenced the process to obtain my spousal visa to remain in country. Although I didn’t expect this process to be a cakewalk, it has turned into drudgery of the highest order.
After going through a relatively easy civil wedding ceremony ― they didn’t ask me any questions or ask to see our two witnesses ― I started down the protracted road to a visa. First, my new bride called to make sure I had all of the right documents before going to the immigration office. Once there, I was told that I was missing a vital form.
“But my wife phoned a few days ago and I’ve brought everything.”
“You’re missing ‘X’ form.”
“Why didn’t you tell her this on the phone?”
“Well, she didn’t speak to me. Not all of our people are trained properly.”
“Why not?”
“Why isn’t there a list on your Web site?”
“That’s a good question.”
Next day back at immigration, proper forms in hand, I take a number and wait. After a good 30 to 40 minutes, my number appears. After showing the forms, I’m told I need revenue stamps, sold at a separate desk.
“Why don’t you sell them here?”
“You must buy them at the stamp window.”
“Why doesn’t it say so on the forms?”
“I don’t know.”
Another 30 to 40 minutes later and I’m up again. “You don’t seem to have enough stamps.”
“The woman said I only need these.”
“Oh, she must be new.”
“Why isn’t this all explained clearly on the forms?”
At last, around closing time, with my paperwork completed, I’m told to return in a week to pick up my visa.
“May I have my passport while waiting?”
“But there’s a large sign in here that says all foreigners in Korea must always have their passport or alien registration card on their person at all times.”
“Yes, but we must keep your passport while processing your alien card.”
“What if something happens and I need to show my ID?”
“That’s a good question.”
A week later, after calling to confirm my card is indeed ready, I return for my alien card and passport. My status is F-2-1, but according to the Korean Immigration Web site, no such category exists. Apparently, in warped Confucian thinking, it only makes sense for a Korean man to marry a foreigner, not vice versa. Not finding information on the Web leaves me worried, so I ask the woman handing me my card for a booklet describing my rights and responsibilities as an F-2-1.
“There is no such book,” she replies.
“How do I know what my status means?”
“You can just ask us.”
“If there is no book, then how do you know?”
“We just know.”
“Is there going to be any publication covering the F-2-1 in the future?”
“It’s doubtful.”
“Why not?”
All right, so I’m in a legal no-man’s-land; at least I have my alien card. This contentment evaporates a few months later when I go to leave the country on a short trip to Thailand. My five-year tourist visa has been cancelled and “change of status of sojourn” is stamped in my passport. Silly me, I think this entitles me to come and go, surely as easy as when I was on my tourist and teaching visas. Apparently this line of thinking hasn’t crossed the minds of the authorities at Korean Immigration. It seems they think once you’re married, you will no longer want to leave the country, even for a short vacation.
Going up to the Thai Airways check-in counter at Incheon Airport, I’m told I have no re-entry visa and will have to go to airport immigration. Bewildered, I go there and am told it will cost 30,000 won ($25) for the privilege of leaving Korea.
“Why wasn’t I told this when I changed my status at main immigration? Didn’t they think I would ever want to leave?”
“That’s a good question.”
On my form are two options: One is for a single re-entry, the other for multiple. I expect to be making several trips during the next year, so I choose multiple re-entry.
“You can only choose a single re-entry.”
“That’s not a choice, then. It’s an order.”
“That’s the way it is.”
“If I can only have a single re-entry, why is there a multiple box?”
“How can I obtain a multiple re-entry visa?”
“You’ll have to go to the main immigration office.”
“Why wasn’t I told about this when I changed my status of sojourn?”
“That’s a good question.”

by Shane Berg
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