While I was back home in Canada in March and April, I was looking for a place to teach. I know I said that I was tired of Asia--- and at the time, I was. But after my experience in Mexico in February, and looking after my father for seven weeks since the death of my stepmother, Asia didn't seem so bad after all. So I began to correspond with schools in both Korea and Taiwan. They're both just a good--- or just as bad, depending on how you look at it. Since I wasn't completely sure of the visa process for Taiwan, I emailed the Taiwanese Embassy in Ottawa.
Taipei Economic and Cultural Office
March 29, 2006.
I have a dilemma that I would like to discuss with your office. I am a Canadian native English speaker and would like to teach English in Taiwan. I am well aware of the visa requirements and would like to do things legally, ethically, and properly in regards to going to Taiwan. I am currently at home in Montreal and have been corresponding with schools and recruiters in Taiwan about teaching positions there.
I realize that I need a 60 day tourist visa to enter Taiwan for this purpose. But what I need and what I'm requesting is a 60 day "extendable" visa. A non-extendable visa would probably be useless to me since it may take longer that 60 days find a suitable position, have the school apply for the work visa, and actually receive the work visa all within the 60 day period. Again, I want to do this legally and properly.
If I apply for this visa, can I get it extendable? Of course I will apply with all of the proper documents and have either the school or the recruitment agency email or fax you a letter of sponsorship. Also, can you guarantee that a work visa will be granted within the 60 day period?
I thank you in advance and look forward to hearing from you on this matter as soon as possible.
I received a prompt reply that same afternoon.
Thank you for your email and we greatly appreciate your honesty. However, please understand that we could not guarantee you that we will issue you a 60-day extendable visitor visa or you will get a work visa within 60 days.
Foreign nationals who have entered Taiwan on other visas (like a visitor visa) and have filed application for resident visas should also apply for ARC's within 15 days after the issuance of resident visa. Please see the website at www.boca.gov.tw for more information.
Thank you !!!!
Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Canada
45 O"Connor Street, Suite 1960
Ottawa, ON K1P 1A4
Tel: (613) 231-5080 x 239
A few days later, I wrote them back. Don't worry, I wasn't mean.
Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Canada.
April 3, 2006.
Thank you for your reply and for your honesty as well. However, I do have some concerns and questions for your office and the Consular General. You did thank me for my honesty, and I do appreciate that. I am thinking about teaching English in Taiwan, and if I decide to, I would like to do this legally and ethically. I also realize that there are TEFL teachers teaching English in Taiwan without a proper work visa or an Alien Registration Card (ARC), and that is not only illegal, it is also wrong.
Since I, and many other TEFL teachers, would prefer to work in your country by following the rule of law and ethics, why would your office not make it easier for us by granting an extendable 60 day tourist visa? I believe that any extension needed would be for no longer than 180 days. Is that correct? This extension would give us more than enough time to find a job at a reputable school and apply for and receive the work visa along with the ARC.
May I say that we TEFL teachers are not asking for any special privileges. We just need enough time to ensure that all of our legal documents will be in place within a specific amount of time. If your office can tell me that once in Taiwan with a 60 day non-extendable visa, I can be granted a work visa either within the 60 day period, or that an exception can be made to allow potential teachers to remain in Taiwan once the 60 day period expires so that the process can be completed, then I, and many other qualified and dedicated teachers would not hesitate to come to Taiwan. This way, the teacher doesn't have to leave Taiwan and risk not being allowed to return. Don't you want TEFL teachers to experience and live in Taiwan.?
My suggestion is that we TEFL teachers work with the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office. In working together, we all succeed. Please keep in mind that we TEFL teachers are coming to Taiwan to help the Taiwanese succeed and have a better future as well as to learn about Chinese culture. If your office helps us TEFL teachers succeed, then we, in turn, can help the students in Taiwan succeed.
Please reconsider your decision so that in helping us, we can continue to help you.
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office didn't reply to that letter. I wasn't surprised, but I was hoping for a positive response. The one and only time I did teach in Taiwan, I did receive my work visa within the 60 day period, but I have known and have met others who, unfortunately, didn't. They had to fly to Hong Kong at their own expense and apply for another tourist visa. Some received it, while others didn't. Taiwan is small, some of them were told. And you can see everything you want in 60 days.
While this can happen anywhere and to anyone from any walk of life is true. But it does cause a lot of problems for us teachers and can leave us in a terrible bind while overseas. Except for writing letters to the people in charge and letting them know how we feel, I'm not sure what the answer is. And from my recent experience with some of these people, that doesn't seem to work either.
I am now teaching at a public middle-school in Busan, Korea. But getting the E-2 work visa from the Korean Consulate in Montreal was pure hell. If you've read my very long July, 2005 column, then you know about my "midnight run" from that horrible hagwon on Jeju-do. That came up on the computer at the Consulate. That was fine, because I wasn't trying to hide it. Anyway, I received a call at home in Montreal from Irene Song at the Korean Consulate. It was a Thursday, a day before Good Friday. The Consulate wanted more information about what happened at the horrible hagwon in 2003. I told her. I was also scheduled to leave for Korea the following Friday, in just eight days. The recruiting agency in Busan called the Consulate in Montreal to tell them that I was to start teaching on Monday, April 24th so I would need the visa as soon as possible. Since the Consulate was closed for Good Friday and Easter Monday, I would have only four days to get it.
But Irene Song had something else to say to me on that Thursday. "I'm not sure if you will be able to get the work visa for Korea. It depends on whether the hagwon owner reported you to immigration. If he did, then you cannot go back to Korea. We have to check with the Ministry of Justice. Call us back on Tuesday."
So I waited. Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Monday. I knew I was right. I had committed no crime. I just left an extremely horrible situation like thousands of other teachers have done over the years. The Ministry of Justice? I know in Korea that's connected to the Immigration Department. But the Ministry of Justice? Isn't that a bit extreme? So I called Irene Song back on Tuesday morning. She said that the Consular General had my passport and he will make a decision today, and that I should call her back this afternoon. She still hadn't heard anything from the Ministry of Justice. "Even if we give you the visa", she said, "We still don't know if you will be allowed into Korea. That is up to Immigration."
So I left my father's condo, hopped on a bus, and went downtown. I wanted to speak to the Consular General in person. After all, there are two sides to every story. Maybe if we met face-to-face, he would see that I'm not such a bad guy after all.
When I walked into the Consulate, I saw Irene Song behind the counter. I requested an interview with the Consular General. "It's okay", she said. "He gave you the visa." I was relieved. After all, for five days I felt like a criminal. "But maybe you will be stopped at the airport", she warned. "Good luck." I'll take my chances, I thought. I also took my passport and left.
By the way, I did get through airport Immigration with no problem. I really didn't think there would be a problem. But was all that really necessary? Is it really necessary to scare teachers like this? Was it really necessary for these people to be so unhelpful and not to take an active interest in the immediate concerns of TEFL teachers, especially when we are going to their countries to be helpful and to take an active interest in the lives of the students?
It has often been said that a lot of people--- whether it be Immigration officials, those who work in Embassies or Consulates, members of the business and academic community, and many everyday people--- don't want us in their country. Some want to learn English. Many need to learn English. And most parents want their kids to learn English. But many people don't want us here--- whether in Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, and many other countries. I'm not trying to be too negative here. I know that there are many people who are happy that we're here. I have met some of them and I'm sure you have as well.
It's also been said that if there is a problem with Immigration, a bottle of whiskey can go a long way in solving the problem. This may be true, and especially true in many parts of Asia. Knowing some powerful people does go a long way in this part of the world. But in my opinion, this kind of behavior has no place in the TEFL world. There is no substitute for doing the right thing. There is also no substitute for doing things the right way. This is not a West versus East thing. Doing things right and doing the right thing are universal codes of conduct. Our lives can and should be made at least a bit easier by Embassies, Consulates, and Immigration officials. We are not just noble warriors fighting the good fight. We are also foreign investors, investing our time, knowledge, energy, and passion to help others.
One solution is to co-ordinate all government departments so a country like Korea can know more about each person that's coming in. It took me seven weeks to get this job at a public middle school, and during the whole application process not one person went to the Immigration Department to check me out. I sent my documents to the recruiter. The recruiter sent my documents to the Provincial Office of Education for the visa issuance letter. The POE then sent the letter back to the recruiter, who then sent it to me via DHL. I then took the visa issuance letter to the Korean Consulate to receive my E-2 work visa. But neither the recruiter nor the POE attempted to contact Immigration in Korea to see if I could come back here to begin with! This is why I had so much trouble with Irene Song.
Again, I wish I had the answers to all this, but I don't. So I'm relying on all of you out there to help me out. We may not be able to solve all the problems in the TEFL world. But by working together, we can solve some of them. One at a time.
By the way, there is a great website that pertains to the rights and responsibilities of both teachers and employers. Many of you may already know of it.
www.efl-law.org Check it out.