My work visa expired last week, though with all the things our academy director is dealing with at the moment it wasn't until today that he realized that we needed to visit immigration to take care of it.
I'd been to the Uijeongbu Immigration Office several times without any problems - usually getting everything done within 15 minutes, and never waiting more than 25 - but with the office moving to a purpose-built site in Yangju in November we were hoping that things would go even more smoothly this time around. On the way there our director complained about how the building was only identified in Korean despite the fact that many (most?) of its patrons are non-Koreans.
We arrived at 11:50 and took a number for Visa & Resident Services. There were 42 people ahead of us in line and two employees working at the counter. After 30 minutes one of those employees left on a lunch break. During this time there was a man sitting at the Naturalization desk with nothing to do and two more employees at the Invitations counter who were chatting between themselves. By 12:50 our director was getting fed up with waiting and went up to the oldest-looking employee to complain. The man was a low-level supervisor who claimed that he had asked the woman at the Invitation counter to help with the workload but she had refused, claiming that she had some data entry that needed to be done first.
I was somewhat worried when our director went up to the supervisor, since 'trouble makers' can be flagged as such in the Korea Immigration Services network. Fortunately we were treated quite nicely when it was finally our turn.* Granted, it took three hours of waiting, but the woman working at the (Outgoing) Immigration desk began to help whenever she could.
Knowing that we were a week late in renewing my work visa our director assumed that he would be expected to pay a fine. We were also told that there was a fee (30,000 Won) associated with changing passport information in their database - a requirement since the passport I used to enter Korea expired last month and I have a new one now - and that she couldn't do anything to help us without the academy's vice-director present. Since the vice-director's name is the one on my labor contract it was technically against the law for us to receive a visa without her there. However, since the woman helping us was sympathetic to our predicament she let our academy director sign on behalf of the vice-director (who is also his wife) and also waived the fee to have my passport info updated in the system. She then informed us that the fine for coming a week late is 100,000 Won and its payment gets handled on the fourth floor of the building.
Inside the elevator is an informational summary outlining which departments are located on each floor. And do you know what it lists for the fourth floor?
1. Investigation Bureau
2. Visitation Area
3. Detention Room
Intimidating stuff. The floor area up there is fairly small - a series of cubicles and a couple of closed-off rooms on the right hand side - and two employees were present when we arrived. They explained that the fine must be paid via bank transfer, which meant that the director had to leave and take care of this before my visa would be renewed. Additionally, since I was officially an illegal alien, I wasn't allowed to leave the fourth floor until he got back. With nothing better to do with my time I took the opportunity to use the web browser on my new phone to make a quick status update on Facebook. It's not every day one has the chance to communicate via social media while being detained; why not make the most of it?
My director was gone for about 20 minutes and during that time I was offered a seat in the waiting area and left to my own devices (ha!). At one point I was called up to sign a document but apart from that the two employees were concentrating more on getting their printer to work than in making sure I didn't wander off. Once we had proof that the transfer had been made it was a short trip back downstairs and a 30 second wait before everything was current in the immigration database.
I mentioned earlier that it took three hours to go through the 42 numbers before ours. When we left immigration the most recently-pulled number was 71 places after the person being helped. Assuming a constant pace of 4 minutes per guest that would suggest a wait time of 284 minutes - close to four hours and fifteen minutes - though immigration would close for the day before that figure was reached. No idea if they were able to make it through everyone, but our director plans on registering a complaint over the poor staff scheduling. **
[*] Waiting for three hours is a lot easier to take when you know your place in the line, after all. While our academy director and I were in the waiting lobby a Korean woman and a non-Korean man were taking care of documents together at the Naturalization Services desk. The immigration agent gestured for them to fill out an extra form and, as soon as they walked off to get it from the appropriate area, he put up an 'Out To Lunch 12:30-13:30' placard. Ouch.
Adding fuel to the fire, when this particular agent returned from lunch he had the next person in line come up rather than continuing to help the couple. Pointing this out to the agent resulted in another gesture, this time for the couple to go and sit down. The woman was having none of it though and berated the agent for his poor memory and service. The visitor who had been called up to the counter was kind enough to let the couple have their place back but the woman wasn't done haranguing that particular employee. "Why did you forget about us so quickly? Is it because he's a foreigner? Do they all look alike to you?"
Her questions generated a fair bit of attention, with many of the higher-level supervisors sitting in cubicles at the rear of the building standing up to see what was going on. I could also sense a change in tone from some of the other people waiting in the lobby. Now I know how riots start. However, the same low-level supervisor mentioned earlier was able to restore a bit of order to the situation. Based on his performance this afternoon it seems that guy earns every penny of his paycheck.
[**] Continuing from the above, waiting in general - whether it involves a long line of people or an inopportune lunch break - is still considerably better than some of the other things that can happen when one is seeking residency status. The New York Times published an article two years ago - An Agent, a Green Card, and a Demand for Sex - that discusses some of the abuses of power that have taken place within the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. You know what? I'll take that three hour wait, thank you.