Kafkaesque farce of such epic proportions I would have felt it only fair to credit Douglas Adams and Haruki Murakami as co-writers. And it beat us in the end.
But we'll always have Busan.
Except we won't. In a disturbing development we visited Beautiful Korea, Wonderful Immigration, who started asking us twenty questions about our marriage and specifically where our British marriage certificate was. We don't have one, we got married in Korea, and when we tried to obtain a British certificate - twice - we were told that the most they could do was keep our Korean certificate on file - but they wouldn't issue us with anything in return. Now we're back in Korea, and despite previously holding an F-2 visa which they handed out like it was a free coupon at the time, suddenly it's time for questions about our marriage and lack of evidence from the UK, save for the procedural wreckage of a legal case we shouldn't have had to have fought.
I didn't even have my old F-2 Alien Registration Card because it expired while I was in England, so Korean Immigration kept it when I came through Incheon Airport, which apparently is procedure but took me by surprise. Now the Immigration Officer in Busan was registering his surprise at why I'd allowed my visa to expire in the first place, because had I not I would be eligible for residency. But since a prerequisite of extending the visa seems to be actually being in Korea, I was confused about how I was supposed to have achieved this under the circumstances.
So my wife showed them the British stamp in her passport which declared her as my spouse, and I was on the verge of suggesting they phone the British Embassy where I'm sure there's a dartboard with my face on it, before the immigration officer seemed to lose interest and switched tack to look at our jobs and assets. This is always the point I hate being a daytrader because so many people lose so much money doing it that most other people reasonably assume we must be losing a lot of money too - and this never paints a positive picture with officialdom. Fortunately because we'd prepared for the Spanish Inquisition that is a British Spousal Visa Interview we had evidence of all our assets and the immigration officer was satisfied that we could support ourselves in Korea after the first couple of documents. Even so, after everything we'd been through with my own Government, the merest hint of a problem with the Korean Ministry of Justice was enough to send a chill down my spine.
Allegedly there's been a problem with Russian immigration of late - it seems their Government doesn't issue duplicate marriage certificates either if a wedding is in Korea, so there's a suggestion that there might have been a lot of scams. Whatever the cause, the fallout has fallen right down on our heads, and we may get an F-2 automatically or we may have to submit to further investigations. Actually, I'm not really worried about it and I know Beautiful Korea, Wonderful Immigration are just doing their jobs, but I'm extremely sensitive to reiterative bureaucratic loops and for a nasty moment there it felt like we were falling into one.
The experience has to be put into context as well. We phoned the Korean Embassy in London before returning because my previous F-2 visa had expired while in the UK, and rather than applying for any specific visa from there, the recommended course of action was simply to turn up in Korea, get a holiday visa, and then convert it to a spousal stay afterwards. In comparison with the British system, which would specifically forbid such a course of action as an attempt at deception, it seems so unbelievably lax one might even call it reasonable and humane. Yes, I know what the British excuse is - "we're just doing our jobs" - and that's just what the Nazis said as well.
Before we left, the immigration official informed us of the future path to permanent residency in Korea, while not-so-subtly emphasising that - of course - I would be expected to have a reasonable level of fluency in Korean in order to obtain that. That's fair enough in my book, but had I already had something approaching that fluency level by now, it wouldn't have been 'sugo haseyo' I'd have been parting with, but rather a "OK, but you're no fun anymore".
Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc.