한국에 정착하고 싶다고? 사회통합프로그램(KIIP) 사용법
One of the biggest regrets of my time in Korea is that I did not sign up for the Korea Immigration Integration Program (KIIP) sooner. It is not only free, but also provides one of the best ways to become accustomed to life in Korea. I know it’s no use crying over spilled milk, but I will revisit my regret in the hopes that you can avoid going down the same path as I did. This article will provide some basic information and my recollections of the KIIP.
South Korea is becoming more multicultrual, especially by the year especially due to an influx of marriage migrants. The government must have realized that, for the good of all citizens, it had to do more to help these immigrants assimilate into the relatively homogenous and conservative Korean society. Therefore, the Ministry of Justice decided to introduce the KIIP. It is sometimes referred to as “a program that helps marriage immigrants to successfully settle in Korea by systematically providing the basic knowledge (Korean language and understanding of Korean society) marriage immigrants need for adaptation and self-support in Korean society.” However, due to the program's good reputation, and that it is not limited to spouses of Koreans, there are many unmarried participants. In fact, any foreigner with an alien registration card, a domestic residence card, or those who have been naturalized within the past three years can join the program.
To join, you first have to register on the KIIP’s website (https://www.socinet.go.kr). Since the site is mostly in Korean, you might have to get a Korean speaker to assist you. This website has a lot of technical issues. For instance, some people have problems using the site with browsers other than Internet Explorer. I had problems accessing the website from my smartphone. Eventually I solved the problem by downloading and using Dolphin Browser. I used the website a lot to see when and where the different courses and tests were held, to register for them, and to see my results.
Unless you have a Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) score or completed some other Korean language course, you will have to take the placement test. After registering for the test, I took it at the Busan University of Foreign Studies campus on a Saturday. I had to visit the website almost on a daily basis, first to obtain my results and then to see whether any course was available. This is because, infuriatingly, the administrators do not publicize information regarding the courses other than through the website, and they cannot tell you when the information will appear on the website. Due to the high demand for the courses,
I was sometimes too late to register as the classes had already been filled; one has to apply as soon as possible. At other times, I could not find courses close enough to me to make attending them viable. Courses are held in various locations across Busan. Although there are online courses, demand for them is so great that you cannot get into them without a reason such as being pregnant. Merely living far from a center where the courses are held is insufficient. Eventually I had to take the placement test a second time, because the results are only valid for a short period. Once you have registered for a course though, things become a lot easier. Your teacher can inform you when you can register for the next test or course. And, if you pass the tests, you will likely continue to study at the same location until you have finished the program.
The program has six levels.
Level 0: Korean Language and Culture for Immigrants - Basic (15 hours)
Level 1: Korean Language and Culture for Immigrants - Beginner 1 (100 hours)
Level 2: Korean Language and Culture for Immigrants - Beginner 2 (100 hours)
Level 3: Korean Language and Culture for Immigrants - Intermediate 1 (100 hours)
Level 4: Korean Language and Culture for Immigrants - Intermediate 2 (100 hours)
Level 5: Understanding Korean Society (50 hours)
Having tried many different Korean language textbooks, I can attest to the quality and usefulness of the prescribed material from level 4 where I started. They are cheap and can be ordered from many different online shops. Attending the classes, you not only learn Korean, but also more about Korean society and lots of useful information that can help you in daily life. In level 4 we went through the material at a leisurely pace; there was enough time to cover it all and have some time to go over some things again or have some extra discussions. But level 5 had too little class time, and we had to really rush just to get through all the material.
My teacher was terrific and went above and beyond the call of duty to get us ready for the tests. However, some participants complained online that their teachers were not that great. Therefore, if you are fortunate enough to have more than one choice, you might want to do some research before committing to a course.
To complete a level, you have to attend at least 80% of the classes and pass a test. All the tests (including the placement ones) have written and oral components. They are not that challenging if you pay attention in class. But, not being used to taking tests anymore, I found them rather nerve-racking nonetheless.
Completing the KIIP not only contributes to your personal development, but also assists you in your interactions with the immigration office. You no longer have to prove your Korean language ability—a requirement for various visa applications. In the case of applying for citizenship, the benefits are substantial. You are exempt from taking the written test and being interviewed. Moreover, there is a reduction in the time it takes for your application to be screened. Usually it takes around 18 months or more for applications to the Busan Immigration Office to be screened, but KIIP “graduates” need only wait about 9 months to get their application results. Except in respect of a reduction in screening time, similar benefits accrue to permanent residency applicants; it is about 6 months at the Busan Immigration Office whether or not you completed the KIIP.
Whether or not you want to apply for permanent residency or citizenship, the KIIP will enrich your stay in Korea. Sign up for the KIIP. You will not regret it.