The Golden Residency Visa

Words and photo by Lorryn Smit

The ever sought-after F-2 visa is the ultimate way to upgrade your life in South Korea if you are looking to stay here more long-term. Expats with this visa have significantly more freedom in their professional lives: you are no longer dependent on visa sponsorship, which for many means you no longer have to be an English teacher.

In the past, expats who were seeking permanent residency in South Korea had to either marry a Korean national, or have a ton of money to invest. However, with the growing number of expat professionals, the government introduced the F-2-7 visa. This visa is obtainable if you can reach the prescribed number of “points,” through various categories. Since this visa is relatively new, information is not easy to find, and what information can be found is constantly being revised. But not to worry! I am here to walk you through it step by step, based on my experience obtaining the visa this past year.

Who Is Eligible?
To be able to apply for the F-2-7 visa, you must have a current eligible visa status, have lived in Korea for more than a year, and reach at least 80 points out of the possible 120.

The Eligible Visa Types
E-series: E-1 through E-7 (excluding E-6-2 visa holders who work for hotel and entertainment establishments)
D-series: D-2, D-5, D-6, D-7, D-8, D-9, D-10
(D-2 or D-10 visa holders who have earned a master’s degree or higher in domestic universities, including graduates-to-be, and those who are confirmed hires of domestic companies).

The Points System Explained
The F-2 visa status application process is based on a point system. You must obtain 80 out of 120 points in various categories to apply for an F-2 visa.

The process may sound easy, but accumulating enough points to pass can be a struggle.

Age: This is one case in Korea where age does not get you anything. Being older is not really helpful. The ideal age is being between 30 and 35 years. This is also calculated based on Western age and not Korean age.

Education: The higher your degree, the more points you can receive, and if you have a bachelor’s of science, you can gain an extra two points. If you have studied in Korea, you can also earn points for that in another category.

Korean Language Proficiency: This category weighs the heaviest. It also gets a little complicated. You will get points based on your fluency in the categories of basic, intermediate, and advanced. There are two ways to prove your proficiency level: TOPIK or KIIP.

— TOPIK: You should have at least a level-4 TOPIK (which, if you ask around, is not an easy task at all). If you were looking to get into a Korean company or apply to universities, you would need a level-4 TOPIK. However, if you do not need it for the future, I say do not worry about it!

Another thing you should remember is that if you choose to apply with only your level-4 or level-5 TOPIK, you will be interviewed by the immigration officer, and unfortunately, it will be up to their discretion whether you pass or not. Some people have told me that their questions were really hard, and they were asked about Korean history, law, etc. Others told me that they were asked how long they had been in Korea and why they were applying for residency. If you choose to complete the Social Integration Program (which I will explain next), you are exempt from this step.

— The Korean Immigration and Integration Program (KIIP): There is already an article in this issue explaining this program in more detail, so I will only outline the benefits of completing it in regard to the F-2-7 visa. As mentioned before, completing this program exempts you from the interview because the government designed this program, and it basically teaches you everything that they want you to know. So, if you complete the program, they assume you are good to go. It also scores you an extra 10 points just for completing it, which, in my opinion, is the only way an English teacher or equivalent will be able to get this visa. The language part of the program is substantially easier than TOPIK, and the culture section is really helpful for your everyday life, and to have a better understanding of Koreans and their way of thinking.

Income: In the past, it was only based on your annual income, but that changed a few years ago. How much you earn and the amount of tax you paid the previous year is taken into consideration.

Volunteer Work: Volunteering does not score you major points, but it could help you get to your 80 if you are short one or two points. The hard part to this is that you have to provide proof (usually in a form of a formal letter or certificate), and they will only count your volunteer work if you are able to log 50 hours at least 6 times per year.

*Point allocation is subject to change quite regularly, so please call the immigration hotline at 1345, and ask for an updated version at the time of application.

Application
The application process can be a pain because, ultimately, you are at the mercy of the immigration office. This is a standard list of required documents:
Passport
Degree (if you ask nicely they could pull it from their database)
Alien registration card
Annual income tax certificate
Working contract
Completed visa application form
1 color passport photo attached
Proof of accumulated points (TOPIK/KIIP certificate, volunteer letter, etc.)
Visa fee and new ARC fee

However, extra documents can also be required, and on a case-by-case basis. Some of these extras might include proof of residence, your employer’s business license, etc.

You can also be granted anything from one to five years’ stay on this visa, and your stay allotment is determined by the immigration officer processing your documents. So be friendly, very patient, and humble. The Immigration Office makes a final decision after reviewing everything. Once approved, it takes about three to four weeks to get your new ARC (alien registration card).

In my case, the immigration officer went through my paperwork very meticulously and asked for more paperwork, but in the end, I was given five years. So, do not lose hope. Hang in there. In the end, all the struggle, hard work, and sacrifice will be worth it. This freedom is the greatest feeling!

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