Daily Archives: August 15, 2009

VISA Debacle I: The Apostille

The first step for acquiring  S. Korean work VISAs was to gather and mail a number documents to Aclipse recruiting agency in Boston, who in turn forwarded them to Chung-Dahm Learning Center, the school in Seoul where we will be teaching. The list of necessary documents included such items as sealed transcripts from the schools we attended, our original diplomas (which they promise they will return at orientation), copies of our passports, passport photos, signed contracts and consent forms, and background checks with Apostilles attached.

We pretty much had most everything on hand except the background checks. So, one day during my lunch hour (before I had announced I would be leaving my job), Gary and I went to a local fingerprinting establishment, filled out some paperwork, paid our $25.62 processing fee, waited in a small, stuffy waiting room with a few others for over an hour, had our fingerprints taken by a crass woman with a smoker’s voice and finally left with our fingerprint cards and instructions on where to send them in hand.  This took much longer than my hour lunch break, but luckily no one at the office seemed to notice how long I’d been gone, or maybe they just weren’t worried about it, so I never offered an explanation.

Within a week or ten days, we received our Federal Background Checks back in the mail, each  with a “No Arrest Record” stamp on them.

With background checks in hand, we set out to discover how to get “Apostilles” attached to them. Now, neither one of us had ever heard of an Apostille, but according to the checklist the recruiting agency sent us, it has something to do with the Secretary of State’s Office. (The dictionary definition of apostille is “a marginal annotation or note” – not a terribly helpful piece of information.)

I called the Secretary of State in Santa Fe to find out how to attain an Apostille and learned that all we needed to do was to send our notarized background check to the Secretary of State’s Office along with a check for the $10.00 processing fee and a self addressed stamped envelopes. Once they received our request and checks, they would attach the Apostilles to our background checks  and send them back to us within ten days.

Sounds easy enough, I thought. There is a notary on the third floor of the building I work in and Gary could easily get a notary at his bank to sign off on his background check. Only, when Gary (who was first to get around to it) went to the bank to get his background check notarized, the notary told him she could not notarize it. Why? She sited a couple of reasons; 1) There was no appropriate location to place the notarization and, 2) the FBI form clearly states that notarization is not required.

After a little further investigation and one or two somewhat frantic emails to and from our recruiter, I learned that what the recruiting agency and school really needed from us were state background checks. And here I thought Federal background checks complete with fingerprint cards would trump any silly state background check; simply not true.

Turns out the state background check is very easy to acquire. All one has to do is print off a form from the state’s website, fill it out completely, send it with a $10 processing fee and a self-addressed-stamped-envelope, then wait ten to fourteen days for a response. We quickly got the forms filled out and mailed them the day before Gary was to leave town for Paolo Alto (where he spent three weeks teaching eleven-year-old talented youth for Johns Hopkins’ CTY summer program). This was early June, well ahead of the June 24th deadline.

Gary’s background check came back in the mail within two days, a quicker than expected turn around, which seemed auspicious and promising.

After ten days had lapsed and I still had not received my state background check (and had endured comments about my integrity from Gary), I decided to call the appropriate office to inquire after it. This was on a Friday, and, in quintessentially New Mexican fashion, (NM is the land of manana), the woman suggested I wait until Monday, and if it still hadn’t arrived by mail to give them another call.

Monday came and went and still no state background check. I called the state again Tuesday morning and told the same woman that the background check had not yet arrived by mail. She placed me on hold, returned to the line and said that it would have been sent with Gary’s, since they were coming to the same address. I assured her that my background check was not in the envelope with Gary’s background check. At this point my phone call was transferred to another woman who defensively insisted that once something leaves their office they are not responsible for it’s delivery. I assured her I really didn’t care about all of that, that I just wanted to find out how to get my background check – that I had to have it for my job. After a heated back and forth she finally understood what I wanted and told me to fill out another request along with proof of payment and another SASE and they would get another one to me.

And they did.

The following Tuesday I took the morning off from work and Gary and I drove to the Secretary of State’s office in Santa Fe to get Apostilles attached to our notarized state background checks (turns out an Apostille is a letter written on very nice bond paper which bears the Secretary of States seal and is attached to the background check with a fancy brass grommet).

While we could have sent our background checks and request for Apostilles by mail, I wanted to hand deliver everything and be available to address concerns or problems in person. Also, we were past the deadline at this point. And, as it turned out, going in person was a wise choice because the woman who helped us questioned the background checks we had; she thought they typically had two pages instead of one. I assured her all we received was one page. She seemed to accept my explanation and disappeared down the hallway to do whatever it was she needed to do. I stood in the waiting area with Gary imagining the nightmare that I may have avoided by being present to address this seemingly minor question;  the woman’s concern over the correct number of pages that a background check should have might very well have been enough for them to return our background checks back to us without  Apostilles attached, thus delaying our VISA process even further.

Upon our return to Albuquerque that afternoon, we “over-nighted” our background checks and Apostilles to our recruiter in Boston to add to the packet of information we had sent ahead, thus beginning our tense wait for VISA codes…

which will be the topic of a future blog.