So I finally did it, guys! I got back into the KIIP (Korean Immigration and Integration Program) classes after about a year-long break. Last year, I took two Korean language classes through the KIIP program – levels 3 and 4. I did learn a lot but I needed a break after that, and then I started working more to save up for Europe.
After I got back from Europe, I decided not to do the level 5 class right away. I wanted a break. I wasn’t sure yet what my plan was regarding my visa and I wasn’t in a rush to figure it out.
Currently, I’m on an F6 visa, which is the marriage migrant visa. Usually, one has to renew it every year, but occasionally the immigration officer will be nice and give a 2 year extension (I’ve also heard some people get 3 year extensions if they have babies).
I was focusing on getting pregnant and freelance tutoring, so I didn’t really think about the KIIP classes for a while. Now that I’m in my second trimester, it’s harder for me to have the energy to tutor as much as I did. I decided not to take on any new students and eventually stopped tutoring altogether. I had days where I felt so exhausted I didn’t think I could make it out of the house and during my first trimester my nausea was pretty bad, so I stopped. Thankfully, I saved up a lot and set it all aside for the baby!
Then I started looking more into what I wanted to do about my status – whether I wanted to try to get my Korean citizenship or permanent residency or what. Korea does allow dual citizens who naturalize through marriage, and my baby will also be a dual citizen. For girls it doesn’t matter, but for boys, once they are 18 years old, they have to decide if they want to reject Korean citizenship or keep it (in which case, they need to do their two years of military service just like every other Korean male citizen) but I’m not worried about that for now.
I found out that as of March 2019, the KIIP program is the only way to become a permanent resident or citizen because the government stopped accepting TOPIK (Korean proficiency test) scores as the language requirement. Meaning that I had to sign up for my last class – level 5 – or else.
Because I had a lot less work and more free time, and because I wanted to get this matter settled before the baby comes, I decided to sign up for the next KIIP class I could. As it happened, the day that I decided to go on the website, most of the classes were still accepting students and some of the classes hadn’t started yet. I registered for a Monday/Friday class and that was that!
The class mostly covers topics on Korean culture, history, government, geography, etc. and is all in Korean. It’s only 50 hours (compared to 100 hours like levels 3 and 4) and there’s an optional additional 20 hour class for those seeking citizenship. When I signed up, I decided I’d keep an open mind about permanent residency vs citizenship but I wasn’t too stressed about it.
I really loved my level 5 teacher and I got a lot out of the class, but it was pretty exhausting. The class was 4 hours per session, and sitting in a hard chair for 4 hours was really hard on my body. I was always thirsty or needing to use the bathroom and I needed a lot of snacks to keep me going. I also got stressed about the test because the book covered so much material. My teacher was confident I would be able to pass the test and encouraged me to also take the extra class if I wanted to go for citizenship.
The extra class was on the weekends – 4 classes in total but 5 hours each on Saturdays and Sundays. I did the first weekend and it was brutal. The teacher, for one, was awful. He admitted he didn’t even look at the textbook, and that’s the material that was going to be on the test! He rambled on and on about whatever he wanted to and I ended up making notes in my book by myself, blocking him out.
After talking with another girl I know who is also married to a Korean man, she told me I’d have more benefits as a permanent resident, since Korea makes all naturalized citizens sign a form saying they’ll revoke their U.S. citizen rights while in Korea. She told me that as a foreign permanent resident visa, it would be better for the baby and I as well, since schools and daycares give priority spots to multicultural families (less waiting time to get in).
I agreed that it made more sense for me to just get my permanent residency, so I stopped taking the extra class and just focused on studying for the test. Permanent residents can vote in local elections, but not for president or anything major like that. I also figured the test would be easier since it wasn’t going to cover the book that the extra class taught.
I took my test on a Saturday afternoon and was really nervous. As I began, though, I realized it was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. The first section was filled with grammar and vocabulary questions, and then it started to get into some of the Korean culture, history, etc. questions. There were only about 6 questions that I was kind of iffy about – the rest were really easy.
After the multiple choice section, there was a short written section where we had 10 minutes to write a paragraph or so. They gave us a topic question that was fairly easy, too. I felt pretty confident about it. My grammar and spelling probably wasn’t all great, but I was able to write the number of characters they wanted.
Then, the final part was the interview. I was number 29 and they went in order, although I was allowed to go first because I’m pregnant, so I was paired with the girl who was number 1. I was glad I got to go first because I just wanted to get it over with and leave.
My interviewers were pretty nice – one seemed impressed and satisfied with my answers and the other seemed pretty neutral. I did stumble a few times but was able to accurately answer their questions without panicking. The girl who was also in the room with me seemed really nervous and didn’t seem to know what they were asking her. I feel like I did really well in comparison. I left the test center feeling good about it, pretty sure that I’d passed.
The results came back less than a week later. I was anxiously awaiting them. The tests for the KIIP program used to be free, but this time I had to pay ₩30,000 (about $30) so I was really hoping I had passed so I wouldn’t have to pay again. Thankfully, I did pass! I got a 78/100 and the passing score is a 60%. I’m kind of bummed I didn’t get a higher score but it doesn’t matter because now I have my certificate of completion.
Now all I have to do is apply for my permanent residency. I’ll let you know how that goes. I’ll probably get an entirely new ID card, which will be cool, and I won’t have to make the trip to the immigration office every year or so to renew it. I think permanent residents have to renew their IDs every 10 years now.
So yeah, I’m happy I got that over with! I think the class covered a lot of material that has already helped me feel more knowledgeable about Korea (my husband doesn’t even know half of the stuff that I learned) and now I can relax and enjoy the rest of my pregnancy without much worry about work or classes.