Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chris on visa portability

Chris in South Korea has written a post on his blog which is itself a response to a lengthy discussion in a post on Brian's which is itself about a piece Chris wrote in the Korea Times.

Got it?

And as much as I commend Chris for the thought he put into the issue, he is missing the boat on the issue of E2 visa portability by not addressing the two points I brought up here: South Korean egalitarianism ideal (which works against legalizing and legitimizing a kind of service perceived to give the upper classes even more of an edge) and 신원보증 ("legally guaranteeing one's sponsoree") which is a key issue blocking visa portability (and which is the main reason why people can get work visas in weeks rather than years).

This is what I wrote on Brian's:
This has been asked and answered repeatedly, if you can locate it somewhere among the din of the K-blogs.

Private tutoring is discouraged — not just for native anglophones teaching English — because it is considered to run counter to egalitarian ideals that have been at the heart of many policies for decades (though, obviously, without complete success).

Second, his proposals fail to go to the heart of the problem for visa sponsorship, which is, well, someone sponsoring you and providing "insurance" for you. Solve the 신원보증, and you've gotten half way.
I dare say the problem with this discussion is that too many people think just because they want something then they should have it. And certainly the right to work wherever one wants is a nice thing to have, but when you're a foreign national without a green card or landed immigrant status or the local equivalent, guess what, there often are restrictions.

Now, some of these restrictions are unfair but, as I'm trying to point out above, it's not all about keeping the E2 down. KoKos have been running into problems with private tutoring for years because the government is loath to run counter to the populist idea in Korea that letting the rich accumulate more riches by giving them a finances-fueled edge in education runs counter to fair play — South Korean sense of egalitarianism (which is itself, in some ways, a response to North Korean communist rhetoric before and after the war about building a fair society).

[And while we're at it, let's make this clear: E2 and E1 visa holders can get legitimate "second jobs" if their employer permits and Immigration gives an okay — which they usually do if it's a legitimate job because they want the revenue stamp. E7s, on the other hand, cannot; they're the only ones who can bitch. Well, I guess an E2 or E1 visaholder can gripe if their employer refuses to grant them permission to moonlight, but that's their reward for paying the price for your ticket (the aforementioned 신원보증): they get to tell you where to sit.]

So, to summarize, Jeopardy-style: South Korea's egalitarianism ideal and the foreign national-guaranteeing function of visa sponsorship?

What are the factors that would need to be addressed if you want to make E2 visas portable?


  1. I don't know much about their system, but English teachers in Japan own their visas. I presume that those visas don't take forever to get.

  2. How long is not very long?

    I don't think South Korea's case is so far out of the ordinary — in the US one must work only at the place of one's work visa, though it can be changed. I think making it easier for job switching would be helpful to keeping hagwon owners honest, but only with the stipulation that the teacher has repaid, say, the cost of bringing the teacher over to Korea, the cost of doing the visa paperwork, and other things.

    Otherwise there would be poaching and that would cause a deterioration of conditions, methinks. I know not everyone agrees with me there.

  3. ||"... 시원보증 ("legally guaranteeing one's sponsoree") which is a key issue blocking visa portability (and which is the main reason why people can get work visas in weeks rather than years)."||

    As Adeel said, expat teachers in Japan own their visas, and I don't think that it takes "years" to get a visa. A family member once taught English in Japan, and I could contact him and find out how long it took. You do realize that if it doesn't take "years" then you're pretty much busted, right?

  4. Sorry, that last sentence was a little harsh. Maybe I'm annoyed that my gravatar isn't showing up.

  5. Kushibo, blogspot apparently limits comments to 4,096 characters. Since my response exceeded that amount - my sincere apologies - I've posted it at

  6. extrakorea wrote about Japan:
    You do realize that if it doesn't take "years" then you're pretty much busted, right?

    I wrote "years" in reference to the US, not Japan. I know too little about work visas with Japan (screening, portability, flexibility, length of time to get it, application process, length of stay, renewability) to discuss this. If someone can recommend a site, I'd be happy to take a look.

    But... that Japan somehow has quickly obtainable visas that are portable does not negate what I am saying about 신원보증 at all. See, my message is not that visa portability cannot exist, but that for visa reform to occur (e.g., creating visa portability, allowing people to come and work wherever they want in the country) you have to resolve the 신원보증 legal matter.

    Maybe Japan doesn't have it, maybe Japan works around it another way, maybe this is something Japan doesn't care about (which would mean a gaijin could break the law in Japan causing damage, leave the country, and the damaged party has no way to recover damages), but that's irrelevant because we're not talking about Japan. Or Mexico or the US (which doesn't have visa portability and nevertheless takes a long time to process visas).

    Korea does have 신원보증 as a legal hurdle, and that is what has to be resolved.

  7. [I meant to finish the previous comment with the following, but Safari's been going all buggy on me since yesterday.]

    I do think there are solutions that take into account 신원보증 while giving more portability. At Chris's site I wrote:

    Perhaps an "insurance fund" of sorts that could provide 신원보증 for the unattached could be a workaround solution, if the government were to accept it. But experiments with guarantee-less business have not gone well. Credit card debt is one of them, and F-series visas are another (they were accepted on the idea that the F-series visa holder's family was responsible for the visa holder, but that doesn't always work that way).

    Everyone has interests, and many of those interests are legitimate. 신원보증, I feel, is one of them, even though it's an imperfect system. And in Korea, at least, it's how the system allows people to get visas so quickly.

    I feel there should be a way to allow a new 신원보증서 to replace an old one, which would allow people to change jobs without leaving the country, but then there would also need to be protections for the people or companies who paid for an E2/E1's air fare and housing and visa processing, etc., to first insure that they've recouped their losses.

    Maybe for people who have been in the country for more than, say, three years without incident, there should be a 신원보증 insurance set up (like car insurance) so that they can "self-sponsor" or something. But again, that requires dealing with the matter of 보증.

  8. extrakorea, yeah, that tone did sound a little harsh. Frankly, I think I get a kill-the-messenger kind of reaction whenever I point out things like this instead of joining in on E2 visa holders singing kumbaya while doing the wave, but things like this need to be laid out.

    Chris and extakorea, I mistyped 신원보증 one time as 시원보증 (but I got it right the other three), but that is the one that you both followed (extrakorea in the comment below and Chris on your site), so I thought I should point that out.

    I also wrote Chris as "Christ." That, too, has been corrected.

  9. The point is that Korea's system is not the only option. Japan has a different system, and if it wasn't working, don't you think that they would change it?

    Korea's visas used to take weeks, but now, because of increased scrutiny of E-2 visa applicants (which is justifiable), it takes months. And Japan? I doubt it takes more than a year. When I was earning my ESL degree, representatives of the JET (Japan English Teaching?) program came to my school, looking for potential applicants for the upcoming school year. I also looked at other job offers from Japan, and I didn't get the impression that it took more than a year.

  10. Gravatar's still not showing up.


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