JuliaMellor

Seoul Immigration Office….You’ve Changed…

In The Social Fabric on March 23, 2011 at 7:55 pm

There is one aspect in particular of expat living that has the immense power to disgruntle.  If you have lived in another country for an extended period of time, or in Korea’s case for a lot less, you become intimately acquainted with the process of visas.  Perhaps you live in one of the lucky, lucky few countries that have a relatively painless and reasonable system of immigration.  Of this I can barely contain raw jealousy.  Each year I promise myself  “I will renew this time….I will never get a new visa again”, and each year I find myself jumping through the same hoops of fire and utter inconvenience.

What makes Korean immigration so blood-boiling, is the fact that it changes the rules more often than students change their homework excuses.  I will spare the details of the past two months of bureaucracy, as it serves less  as informative entertainment and more as a  furious catharsis.  Actually, today prompted me to rethink this whole process, as for the first time I actually had a…..positive immigration experience.  2012 is inching closer.

For those of you have held an E2 Korean visa, you will almost certainly be familiar with the Seoul Immigration Office at Omokgyo.  I have perhaps become a little over-friendly with this dim, soulless building and all that his has put me through in the past.  My perspective was perhaps coloured by the fact that I used to have to travel from the eastern armpit of Seoul in Cheonho-dong to this unforgiving place, which was an uncomfortable hour subway ride.  This, and the fact that you never can guess what was going to happen to you once you crossed the threshold.

But today was different.  As I ascended the stairs at subway exit 7 and dodged the ajumma gauntlet of discount phone cards and subway maps, I considered how much money I could make out of a computer game based on the visa run.  10 points for every ajumma escaped from, 20 points for helping lost foreigners on the walk, 100 points for actually getting a visa unhindered.  I of course won’t staking my future on its success.

Filled with dread as I entered the building, I was fully prepared for the long, boring wait with my laptop, book, and ipod with episodes of Modern Family.  Having done this before, I got my waiting number before I filled out my application form, smiling to myself for my unusually forward thinking.  Much to my surprise, my ears were ringing with the sound of constant beeping as number after number ticked over.  I was actually racing the clock to finish my form, get cash out, go downstairs to the little lady in the snack store to exchange money for revenue stamps, and get back to the waiting room.  I never even sat down to wait.

Two things happened when I sat with my case officer.  First, she was extremely helpful.  She spoke to my employer to solve the mystery of missing documents, she allowed me to use the new internet station to retrieve the correct address without waiting, and she did everything possible to get it done.  Second, it was free.  No longer are we that are from countries without multiple re-entry agreements forced to cough up extra funds for the privilege.  She gave me my revenue stamps back and said see you in 10 days.

I left the building shaken, not sure what to think.  Could it be that the least efficient system is actually evolving for the better? Or was it a lucky chance that I am to be afforded from pure mathematical probability? I’m still unwilling to test the theory.

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