Friday, August 7, 2009

South Korea E2 Visa -- frustrations getting my criminal background check (the sensitive position one) and notarized degree stamped to send to Korea...

This morning my dad and I drove from London to Toronto to visit the Korean Consulate (555 Avenue Road, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 2J7 -- Tel: (416) 920-3809 Fax: (416) 924-7305)

After my dad got his Tim Horton's coffee we headed out to the highway . . .

I keep noticing how 'flat' Ontario is compared to Korea, lol.

Part of the paper work process a foreign English teacher has to do to get a new E2 visa is bringing their notarized copy of a criminal background check (for us Canadians it has to be a sensitive positions check) and notarized copy of your university degree to the Korean Consulate to be stamped by them. After getting the requisite stamp you then send those two items along with a pile of other documents off to the recruiting company's office in Korea (if that's what you've been told to do) so that they can process it and then send it on to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.

Once it has arrived at SMOE someone there then does whatever they have to do and they then send you a 'letter of appointment' stating that you do have a teaching position with them.

After receiving the letter of appointment you then head back to the Korean Consulate (or mail it, but I prefer doing things in person) to apply for a new E2 Visa. And after it has been processed you then go back (or get it mailed to you) to pick it up.

NOTE: I just re-read the entire booklet I was emailed by the recruiting company I'm using and still didn't see instructions clearly stating what you need to do when doing the first initial visit to the consulate to get your degree and criminal check stamped.

This is what you have to bring.

1. photocopy of information page on your pass port
2. notarized copy of sensitive positions criminal background check
3. notarized copy of university degree
4. a sealed university transcript
5. stamping fee: $9.00

In defense of the very well organized and well thought out booklet this is the only thing I've come across that needs tweaking.

On the other hand the booklet DOES say you should get the criminal check notarized on the pages about applying for your E2 visa--but there is so much information that even an expat teacher like me with a fair bit of experience doing the E2 visa thing can get confused . . . and act stupidly.

I usually try to do OVERKILL PREPARATION any time I'm dealing with paperwork for Korea. I did that today by bringing extra copies of my transcripts and other stuff--and that saved me a headache and further delays with moving the process along. I foolishly thought I didn't need to get my criminal check notarized because it was already verified and certified and stamped by the police--nope, if you're told to notarize ANYTHING bite the bullet and just do it even if you think it's overkill.

Anyways, back to my story . . .

Well . . . after arriving at the Consulate and waiting for a bit my number comes up and I walk up to the clerk. She looks at my photocopied and notarized university degree, and then picks up the certified criminal background check for a sensitive position . . . and that's when my heart sinks--argh!

She tells me that I have to have it notarized--I tell her that it's already been certified by the police. She looks at the imprinted stamp and then says the same thing again. I begin to get a little pissed but I keep myself in check, polite, and try again--same response.

She then tells me I'm also missing items: 1) a sealed university transcript, and 2) a photocopy of the information page on my passport.

I look at her and politely but probably with a bit of an edge to my voice say, "The consulate website says nothing about needing these items to get a stamp on the two documents." She replies that it does. In my head I'm thinking that it might be possible that she just doesn't get that the website has instructions for when you are applying for an E2 visa--but it doesn't say what to do when you just want to get your criminal check and degree stamped to send to Korea.

The instructions she referred to here are for getting a confirmation number--I wasn't in the consulate to do that. (OR SO I THOUGHT AT THE TIME).

She then tells me again that I need to give her 1) a sealed university transcript, 2) a photocopy of the information page on my passport, and of course 3) a notarized copy of the original criminal background check . . . in spite of it already being certified by the police stamp on it--yeah, can you hear how thrilled I was?


UPDATE: Damn! It is ON the Korean Consulate website--see here. It's found under the tab "Affixation of the Consular Seals" . . . when I saw that title for some reason it didn't register with me that that was regarding getting stuff 'stamped.'

The website says,

In case of applying by mail, a Prepaid Return Envelope (only Xpresspost is accepted) is also required to return the documents.

The Consular Seals will be affixed on the Official Documents issued by the local government, and organization in the Consulate’s jurisdiction (Ontario, Manitoba)
This Office shall only affix the Consular Seal when it is determined to be appropriate.

Each document requiring the Consular Seal must first be notarized by a notary public or a lawyer registered in Ontario or Manitoba.

A: Degree Confirmation

1. Original degree
2. Notarized degree (Notarization on the photocopy of original degree)
3. Photocopy and an original of the photo ID ( Driver's License or Passport)
4. A University sealed transcript (Consulate will open and keep the transcript for verification purpose)
5. $4.40 per document (Cash or Money Order only, Personal cheque is not acceptable)
B: Criminal Records Search Certificate Confirmation
1. Notarized criminal records search certificate (Notarization on the photocopy of original certificate)
2. Original criminal records search certificate.
3. Photocopy and an original of the photo ID ( Driver's License or Passport )
4. $4.40 per document (Cash or Money Order only, Personal cheque is not acceptable)
If applying by mail
- a self addressed prepaid envelope (only Xpresspost is accepted) is required.
- DO NOT send an original photo ID(passport).

NOTE TO SELF: It's a good thing you stayed polite because you're the dumbass who missed the information that was on the website.

And back to the original story . . . with me assuming that I was right--uhm, noooope.

I leave the consulate fuming. I go back to my dad's car and get in and tell him we have 2 hours to find a lawyer/notary public in downtown Toronto on a Friday with no appointment because the consulate only does visa application stuff from 9am to 12pm on weekdays . . .

We drive for about two minutes and see a Shoppers Drugmart. I go in and photocopy the information page of my passport and then my dad notices a sign for a lawyer's office. We decide to head in and see if we can get my criminal check notarized without an appointment. We also had no idea if the law office would even do this kind of thing . . .

Inside a very posh office I politely ask the secretary if I could get my criminal check notarized. She says she'll ask one of the lawyers if he has a few minutes to help me. My dad and I sit down. About ten minutes later I meet a really nice guy and he brings me back to a small conference room.

He tells me I'm like the TENTH person who has walked in off the street after having been at the Korean Consulate to ask about getting a sensitive positions criminal check notarized. He then mentions to me that he wonders what is going on at the consulate and why they don't realize that the criminal background check is ALREADY certified by the police, and that a notarization is extreme overkill. I won't say what else he said but suffice it to say he was puzzled and irritated by the whole situation, and also sympathetic to it. He leaves me in the conference room and goes to notarize a copy of my criminal check.

Five minutes later he comes back in and the deed is done. He then hands me his card and asks me to email him later letting him know if this is what the consulate wants, and I agree to do it. I'm guessing that other people will be visiting him in the future and he just wanted to know if he was doing his job correctly--too bad other people in certain offices over in a certain country don't seem to have the same idea . . .

Oh yeah . . . . this little extra wrinkle in the whole E2 visa process: $40.00 fee. Nice . . . not.

I then head back to the consulate . . . (saw this sign later while driving through Toronto).

I take a number and wait . . . . and wait . . . and finally get back to the same clerk. Her attitude was actually really nice and a little sympathetic. I tell her that the lawyer had said that the notarization was completely unnecessary, and that it cost me more money. She then proceeds to have a discussion in Korean with a guy who I assume must be some kind of supervisor in the consulate. They both look a bit puzzled and kind of frustrated too. Unfortunately I'm not told the gist of the conversation but I think they also thought that Seoul Immigration needs to learn a few things . . .

The clerk and I chat as she opens the copy of my sealed transcript, and checks my notarized degree against the info in my transcript--I was really happy that she did that because if she had done nothing with the transcripts I was going to be . . . annoyed with more mindless paperwork policy that isn't really for any purpose.

While chatting she says that the real problem with the process for getting a stamp on my criminal check is that the Seoul Immigration Office won't recognize the criminal background check without a notarization letter and seal--period. I really appreciated the fact that she could understand that this was utter nonsense . . .

She then asked me where I got my notarization done so quickly. I tell her and she asks if I would give her the address--I become reluctant because I don't want the consulate sending a flood of E2 visa process refugees running to this really decent lawyer's office without him being aware that he's been set up as the go to guy. She then asks me how much it cost me--and when I tell her 40.00 she then asks me again saying that she thought I'd said the notarization of my degree had been 25.00 (which it had been--back in LONDON). . . when she realized that I'd just spent a lot more money to do something I didn't need to do, and which other people wouldn't want to spend that much money either she quickly let her idea go.

Anyways . . . long story short I got the stamps, maintained a polite and friendly attitude when I wanted to pull a Mad Cow protest in the consulate (imagine me running around mooing and saying "I ate an American burger, moowhahahaha!"), and left with my some semblance of sanity remaining after having experienced yet another E2 visa process crazy event.

My dad and I headed to Swiss Chalet to grab some lunch. I ordered a chicken and 1/3 rack of ribs meal. It was pretty good and I began to feel more human again.

Now that some time has passed and I've been trying to figure out a logical reason for wanting me to have 1) a sealed university transcript, 2) a photocopy of the information page on my passport, 3) a notarized copy of the original criminal background check, and 4) a notarized copy of my university degree . . . I thought back to how she entered my name and information into the computer. After doing that she stamped both documents, put a sticker on them, and then wrote some information.

I really should have looked more closely at what she had done to the two documents to see if a visa issuance number had been created for me . . . if it had been then it DOES make sense that she'd need a bunch of things from me . . . it just sucks that applicants don't seem to be TOLD this BEFORE they get to the consulate.

I guess the other reason that just occurred to me is that when SMOE gets my pile of documents they need to know if they're valid before sending out the 'letter of appointment' saying I have a teaching position. This is the best reason I can come up with for the process you have to go through just to get your criminal check and degree stamped when you're not actually applying for a new E2 visa yet.

The bugger with all this is that I wish I'd known BEFORE going to the consulate that I needed these things . . .

The drive home was pretty uneventful and I enjoyed taking pics of the fluffy white clouds in the blue sky . . .

I'll close with this,




A.T. said...

I did the whole process 8 months ago and I agree that it seems like overkill but I think you're being a bit unfair to the employees at the consulate office. I realize that you revised your post but the website is very clear about the requirements, it's not their fault that you didn't read them properly. Plus, they don't make the immigration rules, and the notarization requirements are the same at every Korean embassy. You're complaining to people who do mindless paperwork all day that their immigration process is flawed...

The notarization process is to ensure that a second pair of (qualified, I guess?) eyes has confirmed that the paperwork is a true copy of the original - this is standard for any immigration process for any country in the world.

The photocopy of the passport? Not sure what's confusing about that, they need photo ID to put into your file.

Transcript is to confirm that you actually graduated from the school that your degree claims that you did. All they're really looking for is that 'degree conferred' line.

For future reference, there are a dozen immigration lawyers on and around St. Clair near the embassies who offer walk-in notarization services for $20-$30, they're all listed online.

Not trying to be condescending, just trying to explain that the process really isn't that difficult if you read all the information that's provided. Hope the second trip to the embassy is better!

Jason said...

Hi AT,

I think I take myself to task pretty harshly for not reading the instructions on the embassy website--I call myself stupid a couple times, etc.

However, in my defense if you look at the consulate website and don't know that "Affixation of Consular Seals" is about getting stuff 'stamped' which is what I thought I was looking for . . . it's fairly easy to not click on that separate tab. I read the tab for "Visa Guideline" and saw NOTHING about the first initial step under this tab. I thought I'd read everything I needed to, and felt that I'd done every reasonable effort to prepare.

I tried to call the embassy to check what I thought I needed to bring--and left a voice mail message which was NEVER returned. Perhaps I should have included this in my story . . .

I don't believe in hiding my mistakes and think that I can learn from them and perhaps help other people avoid making the same mistakes. If what the lawyer said is any indication it seems that a fair number of applicants are doing what I did too. If this is the case then perhaps some reforms by the consulate and on the website are in order, no?

I don't think I was overly critical of the consulate in general or the staff. In fact I think I praised the clerk for her sympathetic attitude and for acknowledging the problem.

My biggest issue is with the notarization of the criminal check when it's already been validated by a government body: the police. This is the thing that confuses me the most because, as the lawyer also thought, if the party that wants this notarization actually took the time to learn about how criminal checks are validated in Canada they wouldn't have to ask applicants to pay more and do more paper work to make up for their lack of competence . . .

Anyways, I wrote about what happened according to my experience in an honest way that shows I made some mistakes and should have looked a little harder for info on how to do things--but I KNOW I'm not the only one who has done this.

Describing how I screwed up will hopefully help others avoid doing the same thing--in the end that is what I'm hoping for.

Thanks for writing your comment--it helped point out a few things that I should have written about more clearly.


kushibo said...

After my dad got his Tim Horton's coffee we headed out to the highway . . .

Damn! For a moment there I thought you had a drive-thru Korean consulate.

Jason said...




John from Daejeon said...

My main 'beef' with the Korean consulate in Texas is their awesome working hours and the two sets of holidays that they get that can definitely be confusing to those of us not expecting the consulate to close several times a year and then for days at a time in either Sept. or Oct. and then again in late Jan. or Feb. Unlike the small size of South Korea, the distances that one must travel in North America from the hinterlands can make the process of obtaining a visa pretty difficult. It takes me about ten hours to get there one way.

Jenny said...

Hi Jason,

I typed 'renewing E2 visa in Toronto' on google and your blog popped up. I actually have a question about E2 visa renewal and am hoping you can answer my question. First off, I'm in Toronto (yay^^). I've been back for a week already and have 2 more weeks left. Is it true that I have to do everything all over again like a first timer to Korea? you know, getting CRC, notarized diploma, transcripts, etc... In case you're wondering, I'm sticking with the same employer (SMOE), but I left the original copy of my contract in Korea. :( I'm really confused... and the clerks at the Korean consulate aren't really that helpful.

Since you've been teaching in Korea for a number of years, I'm hoping you can guide me in the process of renewing my E2 visa.

I hope to hear from you, and thanks for reading!

Jason said...

Hi Jenny,

I think you need to call the Seoul Immigration office and ask them your questions. That, or email/call your co-teacher or someone at your school to make the call for you.

I hesitate to give you advice on this because Korean immigration offices do not follow a national policy (at least in practice anyways) nor do they seem to have standardized practices from region to region . . . what I did out in Chuncheon, Gangwon province may not be what they expect in the Seoul immigration office--if I give you the wrong advice I'd just be making things worse for you.

I will say this--people renewing their E2 visas with the SAME employer seem to have a different set of things they have to do for the immigration office IN Korea.

The safest thing to do is get your co-teacher to call immigration and find out what you need to do. If there are documents you need to get from inside Canada (like the sensitive positions criminal check) then you're lucky you're here and can do so.

Anyways, here are two old posts about what I had to do when I was renewing with the SAME employer and renewing that visa--but again, bear in mind that this was NOT in Seoul, it was NOT with SMOE either, and this was back in 2008--things seem to change pretty often with what immigration wants us to do . . .

Good luck,
p.s. Check when your alien registration card expires cause you might have problems with that when you try to go back to Korea if you don't have a renewed visa . . . .

John from Daejeon said...

(For Jenny and those re-signing with the same school) Re-entry permits are needed to go home for a short time at the end of one's contract in order to return back to South Korea without going through the whole drawn-out visa process again as long as you are working for the same employer and haven't left the country for an extended period of time during your stay under your E2 visa. You can get either a single or multiple entry permit as long as you have a signed contract with the same school. You can find the information on the South Korean immigration website under re-entry.

Here in Daejeon, I've never even had to go to the immigration office as my boss has just taken my pasport, my ARC, and my contract and renewed them for me without any problems. He even pays for the permit. It's not only the re-entry permit that you need to re-enter South Korea legally, but equally important is that you have had your ARC extended as well.

Jason said...

Hi John,

Thanks for the advice.

Hope you're having a good weekend.

Anonymous said...

I wish I had read this before I started my E2 visa process. Even when you dot the i's and cross the t's, I've had lots of problems. I've written about them on my blog. I am still waiting for my visa and hope it comes because my reservation is Tuesday.

This post is a great public service.

I regret turning down job offers in other countries and having to jump through so many hoops to prove that I haven't committed any crimes in a country I haven't lived in for 10 years.

Anonymous said...

For your US readers, you can get a document notarized for free at your bank.