Re: Kushibo and visa reform

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OK, so I wrote about visa reform. A version got published in the Korea Times, debated about on Brian in Jeollanam-do and another post on this blog. If you’ve been reading along, feel free to skip the links – if not, click before continuing.

Kushibo wrote a response on his excellent blog, where he asked a couple interesting questions:

OK, so I wrote about visa reform. A version got published in the Korea Times, debated about on Brian in Jeollanam-do and another post on this blog. If you’ve been reading along, feel free to skip the links – if not, click before continuing.

Kushibo wrote a response on his excellent blog, where he asked a couple interesting questions:

And as much as I commend Chris for the thought he put into the issue, he is missing the boat on the issue of E2 visa portability by not addressing the two points I brought up here: South Korean egalitarianism ideal (which works against legalizing and legitimizing a kind of service perceived to give the upper classes even more of an edge) and 시원보증 (“legally guaranteeing one’s sponsoree”) which is a key issue blocking visa portability (and which is the main reason why people can get work visas in weeks rather than years).

So, to summarize, Jeopardy-style: South Korea’s egalitarianism ideal and the foreign national-guaranteeing function of visa sponsorship?

I was all set to type a comment on the aforementioned post – but it came out longer than the 4,096 character limit allowed on Blogger comments. I’ve copied and pasted it below for his (and your) consideration.

Kushibo,
To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t thought about your two points when writing the thousands of words about visa reform. Since reading your well-written comments and having had some commuting time to dwell on them, here’s a partial response.

Regarding the egalitarian ideals: where might they be found? In everyday life, Koreans compare the schools their children go to, the cars they drive, the apartments they live in, the companies they work for, and the universities they went to. Everything has a ranking, a number, a rating – and EVERYTHING is better or worse than something else. When you first meet someone, you’re sizing them up – how old are they? Where did they go to college? – to figure out who is ‘senior’ and ‘junior’ in the relationship.

The Confucian mindset that permeates Korea does not allow “equals” – to claim an egalitarian ideal in the same implies that people are ok with being “equal” to their neighbor. I’d beg to differ – they want to have a nicer [noun], a better [noun], and so on.

Regarding 시원보증 (“legally guaranteeing one’s sponsoree”): I don’t know enough about this concept to know whether this is a legal issue, a cultural issue, or one where the status quo has been preserved because it’s the status quo. To be honest, this is the first time I’ve ever heard about it, or at least the Korean term for it. Please allow my admittedly ignorant perspective to continue 🙂

If you want people to do things legally, you take steps to make it easier than the illegal way. That’s one reason, perhaps, why you have legitimate trash bags you can buy at every convenience store instead of just the district office. Even if few, if any, are fined for improper trash disposal, it’s essentially as easy to be legal than to stuff everything in E-mart bags and walk away.

The same mindset can go with Immigration, and one possible solution need not be complex or overly bureaucratic. As I understand it, a F-series visa holder or Korean that wishes to offer private lessons needs to register with a district (gu) office (please correct if wrong!). For tax purposes, the registration would be made as easy as possible, with the expectation that one’s income from such lessons would be reported. Penalties can be meted out according to the tax code, including back taxes owed or jail time in an extreme case. The Korean tax system may not approach the American IRS in intimidation, but it can best hand out penalties related to underpayment of taxes.

The idea of ‘guaranteeing one sponsoree’ seems a bit obsolete. What are we worried will happen? A foreigner will somehow become destitute and try to apply for the Korean equivalent of food stamps? You’d have to have some help to navigate that system – implying you’re not entirely without resources.

It’s not as if your employer is going to bail you out of jail after a drunken fight – most contracts explicitly state the contract is terminated if you break the laws of Dae Han Min Guk. From that point forward, your now-former employer has no responsibilities to you, and will likely refuse any responsibility or requests for assistance. If one’s employer were to *actually* ‘guarantee’ their employee’s behavior, or take responsibility for their actions, I might be willing to accept this concept more readily. They don’t. The only ‘insurance’ they might provide is someone to call to say they won’t be teaching tomorrow’s class. That’s not insurance, or a guarantee.

What you’d need is a system set up to assist foreigners in a given country – assisting them out if they’ve broken the laws and deserve to be deported, or advocating / guaranteeing for them in case of some less-serious incident. Perhaps the answer is a required insurance / pre-paid legal assistance system. I’d gladly allow 100,000 won / month deducted for a system that allowed access to a native-language-speaking lawyer, and/or the ‘guarantor’ that allows for visa portability.

Kushibo, you’re right about the issues that have stymied the system in the past. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I certainly don’t claim to understand all the historical contexts that come up. But ways forward are definitely what interest me – and there are plenty of them.

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