▲ Mike Laidman was mostly positive about his experience on the Social Integration Program. Photo by Darren Southcott
Reflecting nations worldwide wanting to attract skilled workers and overhaul creaking visa systems, in 2010 the Korean government introduced a point system for non-citizen professionals to obtain long-term residency status (F-2-7 Visa).
Unlike similar initiatives worldwide, this is not a citizenship test; however, the Social Integration Course does offer individuals with the required time and effort the chance to be freed from the restrictions of a lower-order visa, such as the E-2.
The Weekly tracked down Canadian Mike Laidman, who is going through the process on Jeju, and asked for his reflections on the system.
What made you decide to go down this route to the F-2-7?
When the Korean government first gave foreigners the option to earn the F-2-7 visa through a point system instead of marriage, I never figured I’d be able to cobble together enough points to do it. It wasn’t until I finished studying Korean at Jeju National University that I realized that it was now feasible due to my language level.
What is the main advantage you feel the F-2-7 will give you personally? Having the F-2-7 visa itself is a huge advantage as it lets you do anything you like. My “triumvirate of (potential) success” includes the visa, speaking Korean, and being a foreigner. All the people with the F-series visa (who aren’t of Korean descent) have gotten it through marriage and few of them speak a high level of Korean.
What was your first step in taking the social integration course?
Through hikorea.go.kr. Once I started looking at taking the program I’d finished my studies at JNU, so my Korean was proficient enough to avoid making any big mistakes! Also, the classes are done through various Immigration Centres around the island, and there is usually someone at each one who can speak English. I went to the Immigration Office and spoke to the fellow who is in charge of the program and is the liaison for any interested foreigners.
What was the pre-course test like? The pre-test was harder than I thought, mostly because I hadn’t prepared and was unsure what would be on it. The grammar sections weren’t too tough, but there were all sorts of questions about Korean holidays, important dates, the names of the historical figures on the won, what traditional foods are eaten on each holiday, etc.
What were the social integration classes like?
Levels one through four are 100 hours each, and level five is 50 hours, all about culture and society. I tested into level four (out of five levels). The classes take place at various Immigration Centres around the island [but] the government tries to offer a number of class times and places, so you can choose the place and time that best suits you.
The first class I did three times a week for three hours at a time. Level five I did online with the teacher from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., five days a week via webcam and headsets. This was a little challenging, as the level five book is a thick tome that covers all sorts of things about Korean history, politics, society, and economy.
How did you prepare for the tests?
It was mostly self-study, but in the 10 days leading up to the test the teacher sent us review materials via email every day. By level five all your grammar should be down pat (the intermediate stuff, at least), so it’s really about learning about Korean history, and the rest.
What were the tests like?
The test was held at the Jeju Immigration Centre. The test was about what I figured it would be like - moderately difficult. Foreigners who are married to Koreans only need to get 50% to pass the test. Not being married, I needed 60%.
The test included a grammar/Korean society section, a short writing section, then an interview done two students at a time with a Korean teacher and one of the immigration officers. They had you read a short article and then describe what it was about and then they asked some more questions about festivals, holidays, national holidays (days off) versus non-day off “holidays.” etc.
Throughout the two entry tests I wrote, the two courses I took, and the final exam I wrote, there were no other men. There were, in fact, no other Westerners until the final exam when there was one Russian woman, but that’s it!
Did you have to sit a Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) test? I didn’t, but I did sit it to get some more points. If you’ve passed the Social Integration Program, the TOPIK score counts for five extra points, just make sure it hasn’t expired when you go to apply for your visa. I learnt on my last trip to immigration that the TOPIK test has a two-year period of validity, just like TOEIC/TOEFL.
How well does the Jeju Immigration Office deal with applicants?
The officers at Jeju Immigration Office have no idea what they’re doing. No one seems to know what the rules are, what documents you need, when you need them, how long you have to have been living on an E-2 visa before applying for the F-2-7, etc. I have been told contradictory information from there on a number of occasions and I have left angry on a number of occasions.
Any overall reflections upon the course?
It was great! Overall a very positive experience! I can really recommend the Jeju National University program, too. It was a lot of fun and my Korean ability skyrocketed in a fairly short time. Note, though, that when I was studying I wasn’t working. I can’t imagine trying to do the program while working in the afternoons. When I did the Social Immigration Program I was only working part-time, and so was able to fit the courses in without too much trouble. If you’re working full-time then you might have to resort to internet classes.
Necessary steps of the Social Integration Course
1 Make an account at http://www.socinet.go.kr/, then log in and register. You can apply for the pre-test, or go directly into level 0
2 Do the pre-test to get assigned a level
3 Go to the local immigration office to fully register on the program
4 Confirm your level on the website
5 Apply for an operating center
6 Get assigned to an operating center
7 Start program
8 Take Korean classes
9 Sit mid-program test
10 Start culture and society classes
11 Receive counseling at the immigration office
12 KINAT (Korea Immigration and Naturalization Aptitude Test)
13 Receive a completion certificate
14 Apply for naturalization at the immigration office.
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