[UPDATE: A new Points list has been released by immigration. Links are provided below. Valid from July 20, 2015]
Over two years ago, I posted about the F-2 (F-2-7) points visa offered by the Korean government. Often referred to as “the points visa” I was interested in completing the steps to obtain it since I knew I would be in Korea long term.
Now, over two years later, I have successfully obtained the visa and would like to share my experience.
What is the F-2 Points Visa?
The points visa is based on one gaining 80 points from a list provided by the Immigration department. Click here for the English Breakdown: 07.20 KIIP Update English (07.20.2015 Update) However, I also recommend checking out the Korean version, since the Immigration officers will reference this when processing your application and there are a few things that aren’t translated properly into the English form (more on that later). Here’s the Korean version [updated July 20th version] 07.20 KIIP Update Korean.
Other blogs break down the points, so I won’t get into that here, except for how it unraveled in my personal situation.
The Korean Immigration Integration Program (KIIP)
Now, most participants will need to take part in KIIP (Korean Immigration Integration Program, 한국사회통합프로그램). This is a state-funded Korean language / culture study course offered for free to participants. If nothing else, it is an excellent way to get some free Korean classes. When working towards the points visa, it will give you 25/26 points towards the 80 you are building towards. (More on the 25/26 discrepancy below)
KIIP consists of 5 Levels. Levels 1-4 are grammar lessons. Level 5 is called Understanding Korean Society and Culture. It is not a grammar-learning course.
To participate in KIIP, I first registered for my placement test via the Socinet website. There’s an English option for most of the forms, but anyone who has used Korean-style sites before should be relatively accustomed to the procedure. After making an account, I signed up for the test. It was held on June 8, 2013 at Yeungnam University in Daegu.
Taking the KIIP Placement Test at Yeungnam University, Daegu.
The test involved a grammar and listening test, similar to TOPIK or other standardized tests. Being a placement test, one could feel the questions increasing in difficulty. After the written test, we were shuttled to another room to do the reading/speaking test. For this part, I sat with 4 other test takers directly in front of the exam proctor. Since I was sitting on the end, I had to start. I read the short passage taped to the table (only about 4-5 sentences about a girl who enjoyed spending her time watching movies on the weekend), then answered some comprehension questions about it. (ie. “What does the girl like to do?” “How does watching movies make her feel?” etc.). Then the proctor asked me a random question: “Describe for me a national holiday (명절) in Korea.” So, I started talking about Chuseok (추석) and described all I knew about it. She then went down the line of other students who had to read / answer the *exact* same questions. Then the test was over.
Via the Socinet website, I was able to see I had been placed in Level 4. This was the highest grammar class of the KIIP system. So, I was pleased to have been placed so high, allowing me to skip the lower levels, saving me gobs of time.
Level 4 KIIP class at Yeungnam University, Daegu.
I registered for the Level 4 class via Socinet again. This was in March 2014. (I had a busy summer 2013, so had to push it off). I did my time, took my notes, and passed the final test with relative ease.
I then registered for Level 5 and took that in October 2014. Again, I put in my required time, took my notes, and did my test. This time, during the final test, there was another similar speaking component. Seeing as how the test was administered at the Daegu Office of Immigration, we had to answer some questions in front of one of the Immigration employees. One question was to describe what we knew about Jeju Island. Another question was to recite / sing what we knew of the Korean national anthem and describe the national anthem from our own country.
Attending KIIP Level 5 at Keimyung University, Daegu.
One thing I should mention is that I *loved* the text for KIIP Level 5. It’s like the Cliffs Notes of Korean history and culture, written for non-Koreans, so uses easy language and is very visual. I wish this book was available in the marketplace. It’s contents are very valuable I think.
KIIP Level 5 “Understanding Korean Society” textbook.
KIIP Level 5 “Understanding Korean Society” textbook.
After passing Level 5, I was ready to head to Immigration and get my points totaled! And *this* is where the headache began.
Applying for the F2 Visa
As soon as I found out I had passed Level 5, I headed over to the Daegu Office of Immigration to get my points calculated. In my calculation, I was over the necessary 80 points. One of the things I handed in was proof of having worked 6 years in a professional field back in the States prior to coming to Korea. I had worked in the professional security world and served as a Security and Fire Life Safety Manager for one of Denver’s high rise office towers.
The immigration officer accepted this documentation and said I was over the 80 points needed, however, I would need to gather tax documentation for at least 3 consecutive years from back home. But, not to worry, he said. I could request those documents and immigration would accept a PDF showing it.
So, I went home, emailed my old manager, and woke up the next morning with the requested tax documents, in PDF format, in my inbox. Again, I went to immigration, pulled my number, and waited. When my number was called, I found myself sitting across from a different immigration officer. I explained how I had been in the office on the previous day and was ready to submit my new documents. This officer, however, refused all work experience from back home citing that the experience had to be in a related field. Here, he produced the original Korean form of the points breakdown and showed me, in Korean, that it states it needs to be in a related field (which it wasn’t in my case). I told him that the other officer said it was fine. The two talked. Then the officer I had originally spoken with apologized and said he was mistaken.
Not only this, but the new officer insisted that passing Level 4 of KIIP was equivalent to 15 Korean language points, not 16 as specified in the documentation I had (which is linked above). He said TOPIK Level 4 is 16, but KIIP Level 4 is only 15. I asked him for documentation, and he swiveled his computer around to show me that indeed it was only 15 points. I asked for the date of that document. It was dated April 22, 2013. Mine was dated April 17, 2013. That means there was an updated version made 5 days after the original was published and released to the public. I asked the officer for a printed copy of his updated points breakdown, but he refused, claiming it was an “internal document”. I was pretty upset at the inconsistency here. He said I had 79 points and suggested I “just pass TOPIK 5” and all would be ok.
I took my documents and went home.
In February 2015, I had to renew my normal Korean visa, so when I went in I decided to take all my documents again and see where my points stood. This time I spoke with another immigration officer who tallied the points and said I had 79. She suggested I do the 50 hours of community service and come back. I asked if there was anything else I needed. She said no. Just the document showing my 50 hours. So, I renewed my other existing visa, and left.
A few months later, this time May 2015, after having successfully fulfilled 50 hours of community service over 6 different sessions (via festival event planning with the YMCA in Daegu), I returned to the Daegu Office of Immigration with my documents and spoke to the same officer I had spoken to in February. She didn’t remember me, no big deal, but when she calculated my points, she said I had 80 now, but also needed *an additional* 5 more documents. I was not too shocked anymore to see the goal posts changed on me once again. I started complaining to her that everyone in the office kept shifting the target around on me and telling me different things. I reminded her that in February she had told me the community service document was *all* I needed.
She apologized and said the other 5 documents would be easy to obtain (recent phone bill to establish residence, 2014 income earnings [I still had the 2013 earnings statement with me then], bank account official document, employer’s certificate of registration and tax info, etc.)
Feeling a bit guilty perhaps, she said I could leave my documents with her, pay the 100,000 application fee, 30,000 won card fee, and a 5,000 delivery fee, fax in those 5 documents, and then they would process my F2 and mail it out to me. In a huff, I did as she asked. (Side note, I had brought a few profile pictures of myself for the application, knowing they would need it, however the background at the studio was gray and they only accept pure white backgrounds, so they made me take new pics in the basement for a 7,000 won fee.)
…and now things get really complicated…
I gathered those 5 documents and faxed them in. Then the immigration officer called me and said that for 2014, I had paid 980,000 won in federal income tax in Korea. The point bracket shows 1 point for paying over 1 million (which I had done for the previous 3 years, including the document from 2013 she had originally approved). So, she said sorry, but they wouldn’t process my visa because I was down to 79 points again. That’s right. I lost a point because in 2014 I happened to pay 20,000 won (about $20) under the threshold requirement.
She said that unfortunately they could not refund the 100,000 won application fee they had taken from me just 3 days prior.
Oh….was I ever livid.
Thankfully, it was a Friday, so I could cool my temper down over the weekend before aggressively campaigning for that extra darn point the following week.
Over my 4.5 years living in Korea I had successfully completed 4 YMCA language academy Korean classes. There’s a part of the points where 1 point is given for “Korean Language Training”. The Korean version says:
Nowhere in the Korean does it mention it must be from a university. The YMCA courses are all recognized by the 국립국어원 (National Korean Language Institute). It’s not some fly-by-night language school. All teachers are certified. I then presented the 4 수료증 (specifically stated in clear letters on the top of each certificate and underlined in red in the requirement above).
YMCA Certificate of Completions
Daegu Immigration shot back by saying that it’s only for university programs. I mentioned they don’t specify anything about universities. They were adamant. Only university programs qualified for this point.
The only other thing I could think of was to re-approach my previous work experience back in the States. I worked in the security field but also published articles about the industry in national trade journals during my tenure there. Also, I had spent the past 3 years working as assistant editor for the Daegu Compass magazine and had just been offered a promotion to Editor-in-Chief. Perhaps they would accept it now?
Well, after a few days of volleying back and forth over it, they finally accepted it. I think they just wanted to get rid of me and realized I wasn’t going to give up over 1 measly point. So, they accepted the work experience, which put me to the 80 points (perhaps over? I don’t know), and sent me my new F2 visa! I received it about a week and a half later.
One side note: I was under the impression that the visa was an automatic 3-year visa. Two of my classmates from the KIIP Level 4 course were given 3 year visas. Mine was only made for 1 year. Perhaps because I was stingy about it. I called the 1345 Immigration hotline and spoke to a representative in English about it. She said that immigration officrs have discretion over the length of sojourn, so it really is up to what they think of you / how well their day is going. ㅠㅠㅠ
Likewise, the officer that ended up giving me my visa didn’t make a stink about the 15/16 point issue with Level 4 of KIIP. She calculated 16 points for me, not the 15 that the first officer had claimed 6 months earlier. Again, there’s no consistency in this office. Walking in is just a roll of the dice it seems.
Anyway, hopefully renewing it isn’t a mess. Be prepared for Part III of this F2 adventure if it is.
In a Nutshell…
The F2-7 points visa is possible. My experience dealing with KIIP was wonderful, yet dealing with immigration was a nightmare. I felt they kept changing the goal posts on me, telling me one thing one day, and changing their minds the next. Keep in mind, the immigration officer has discretion over what they will or won’t count as points. The inconsistency is a pain, but you can do it!
Would love to hear your thoughts and comments and if anyone has any experience in renewing this visa, I’d love to read it also in the comments below! Good luck to you all!