Wednesday, February 6, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 61: My Miracle Visa Story

In 2009, one of our beloved church members Gu SoYoung was dying of cancer.  While she was in hospice care, I had to leave the country to get my new visa.  Here's the story of how I miraculously got back in time to care for her and her family before she died.

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.

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