Friday, May 02, 2008

Mutual Appreciation

When I last went to the Busan Immigration Office, we were told that my F2 Visa could only be extended until August of this year, which was when my passport expired. After we won our legal case against the British Government, there was little reason to extend my F2 and I certainly had no desire to renew my passport using the Embassy in Seoul, which I now have a complete lack of trust in.

As the date of our departure nears, I happened to be checking my passport when I noticed that I had no Korean immigration stamp in it for my last extension, and after our troubles with the British immigration authorities, I was anxious to ensure that there were no unexpected complications during my departure, or indeed next time we returned to this country. In fact, when we bought tickets to return to England two returns on a special offer worked out at the same price as two singles, so we booked a return in January 2009.

A phone helpline advised us to get some paperwork from the local District Office and go to the Immigration Office, where surprisingly the unstamped passport was not at issue, and in fact there was an unexpected offer to extend my F2 visa for another year, expiring passport notwithstanding. This didn't really seem to be consistent with the earlier experience but I wasn't complaining. In another revelation we were also told there was no cost for this multiple re-entry visa, which seemed unlikely, considering that we'd paid over £500 (about 994,000 won) for the same thing from the British Government. My wife was rather taken aback by this but the immigration official was quite certain - tapping away and a section of her rulebook which being in Korean I just had to assume represented the relevant guideline. This is where things got more interesting.

Apparently, Korea has a reciprocal agreement with Britain covering these visas, or at least, it thinks it does, under which Koreans should be afforded the same treatment and conditions by the UK immigration authorities as British people in Korea, so my wife related the £500 costs and one or two other aspects of her visa conditions. Cue a serious look from the Korean official and an announcement that they were going 'to report this'.

I felt that I was also be looked at for some kind of explanation of the inequitable treatment of Koreans by my Government, when compared to the entirely fair and understanding way I had been treated by my hosts. But I had none. Unfortunately my Korean is nowhere near the level of being able to explain that the British Government's overseas embassies operate in an institutionally racist way as a matter of Government policy, the goal of which is to keep out as many foreigners as possible while still vaguely appearing to comply with European Human Rights legislation. So I had to shrug my shoulders at the official and say '나쁜 정부' (bad Government), which doesn't nearly do things justice and is a poor substitute for 'institutional racism', the Korean for which I really ought to learn. I noticed a poster hanging on the wall 'Human Rights Violation Hotline'. Ironic.

Anyway, I get my new extended visa in a week and bizarrely, if we can bring a baby with us next time they could extend it for longer than normal. I couldn't tell if the immigration official was joking or not - something to worry about then.

Meanwhile, I'd like to indulge in the fantasy that the way my Korean wife was interrogated and summarily refused entry into the UK by the British Embassy might provoke a minor diplomatic incident behind the scenes of 'the strong relationship between our two countries', because I've often wondered how the British Government and its people would feel if other countries started to refuse entry to British citizens were the roles to be reversed. But somehow, I expect there's just been a misunderstanding in Korea - the UK immigration authorities will continue to harass foreigners applying for visas as a matter of policy, while the Korean immigration authorities labour under the illusion that their treatment of people in my position will be reciprocated back home with Korean citizens (it won't).

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