Sunday, March 29, 2009

Miracle Visa Story

Perhaps this is a bit overstated, but I feel like I've experienced a small miracle. Let me explain.
In the Korean immigration system, there are three steps to obtaining a visa. 1) The employer makes the official application at an immigration office in Korea. 2) The immigration office sends the employer an "approval number," similar to a confirmation number when you make an airline reservation. 3) The prospective immigrant (like me) takes that approval number to a Korean embassy (outside Korea) and files for the actual visa which goes in the passport.
The immigration office said that the time between step 1 and step 2 could be anywhere from 3 to 14 days. We heard through the grapevine that the average wait is 5 days. I left Korea on day 9 because my old English teacher's visa was expiring the next day. Every day in the Philippines I anxiously awaited my approval number. I checked my email several times a day. I asked Sarah to call the Nazarene district office. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
Suddenly, on day 13, Thursday, my friend Chul-Hwan, the business manager at the district office, called me in the Philippines to tell me that the approval number had arrived! I was extremely excited, but I also started making plans to delay my flight. The normal wait for step 3 (getting the actual visa) is 3 business days. That would mean 5 days for me, since the weekend was coming.
Sarah, however, strongly encouraged me to ask for an exception.
Timothy Kim, a Korean missionary in the Philippines, called the embassy and asked for an exception. The embassy said that I was out of luck, that they don't make exceptions - 3 days, no ifs, ands, or buts.
Sarah, insisted that I keep trying.
Timothy sent a Korean student at APNTS with me to the embassy on Friday morning. Because I was there with a Korean citizen, I was able to skip to the front of the line (passing about 30 other people).
We talked to one worker, and she sent us to another. I asked for an expidited visa process, but she said it would take 3 days - just like everyone else.
I explained that one of my church members is extremely ill and in a hospice, and that I needed to get home immediately. She said that someone would have to work through their lunch break to help me.
I said that if no one helped me I would loose my ticket, and I might get home too late to be there for my friend. She reluctantly said they could give it to me in the afternoon.
I said that my plane left in the afternoon, and that I couldn't make it to the airport in time to make my flight unless they gave me the ticket in the morning. She put my passport on the shelf and told me to sit down.
I didn't know what was happening. I thought I was probably waiting to speak to the consulate - someone who actually had the authority to make exceptions like this. The thought also occured to me that she might just be putting me to the side to get me out of her hair.
After about 10 minutes, the security guard called my name and gave me my passport, telling me to check to make sure everything was correct. I opened my passport, and there inside was my Korean D-6 religious worker visa!! (This photo is not actually my visa, but it looks pretty much like this.)
I was shocked. I couldn't believe it was real. I anxiously checked all the information, and said "Thank you" about a dozen times.
Then, I got out my money to pay. (By the way Americans have to pay twice as much as people from other countries, and it was the same in Tanzania.) I showed my money to the attendant, and she said, "What you didn't pay?!" I said, "You never asked me to pay."
Then, I paid and found my friends and said, "I got it. Let's get out of here." I was kind of afraid they would stop me at the door and say there was some mistake, that I couldn't actually have the visa afterall. (Irrational I know, but still that's how I felt.)
I was only in the embassy for less than 30 minutes. The process that should have taken 5 days took less than half an hour!
I couldn't believe it. As we were driving to the airport (to catch my flight which left in 5 hours), I opened my passport about 5 times just to stare in awe at my new visa.
I made it back to Korea late Friday night (too late to catch a bus to Cheonan). Sarah met me at the airport, and we came back to Cheonan Saturday morning.
I have my visa. I'm now a registered religious worker in Korea!
Thanks be to God!
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