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For international students, a part-time job at Starbucks is a bureaucratic nightmare

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Whether it’s interning at a company, serving in a coffee shop, or working in a convenience store, part-time jobs are hard to find and keep for international students due to visa limitations.

“As an international student, finding a part-time job is difficult not because of the language barrier, but because of the visa limitations,” said Alysa Hasegawa, a 22-year-old senior at the Yonsei University.

Over the past month, Hasegawa has applied for more than 20 part-time jobs, from coffeehouse chains to private companies. Most rejected her application, and those who called her back eventually told her she couldn’t work with them due to her limited hours during the semester.

International students like Hasegawa, who have passed a Korean Language Proficiency Test (TOPIK) Level 4, can work up to 25 hours Monday through Friday and unlimited hours on weekends and holidays. Those who do not have the TOPIK level 4 certificate are limited to only 10 hours per week.

“Employers have little understanding of what our visas allow, so even though they are looking for college students, they are cautious about hiring me because of the hours I can work,” Hasegawa said. . “Most places want people to come five to six days a week on an eight-hour shift – which I can’t do because of my visa limitations.”

International students with a part-time job offer must obtain a work permit granted by immigration to work. They must apply for a work permit, first at their university, then at the immigration office.

At first glance, the process seems simple: students must gather the required documents, visit their university’s international affairs team for approval, and apply online or offline for a work permit at the immigration office. However, international students must jump through countless hurdles to have these permits granted.

If students apply online, they can use the HiKorea platform to submit an electronic application, the written guidelines on the website require basic documents such as employment contract, part-time work certificate issued by the university, transcript or certificate. attendance and documents proving Korean language proficiency.

However, university or immigration guidelines are often incomplete, often failing to mention the need for things like a business registration certificate or employer ID that matches the job. company registration.

When submitting cases to immigration, more documentation is often requested as each situation is treated as unique – whether the permit is accepted or denied is at the discretion of the immigration officer. Agents can return the first application, request contract changes or additional documents, and ask students to reapply.

“When you apply online and your application is returned, there is little guidance, they just give you a reason for rejection but don’t explain how to fix it,” said Vanessa, a 22-year-old Vietnamese student from Yonsei. year.

“I’ve worked with this company since 2021, switching contracts between holidays and semester to meet hourly regulations and reapplying each time without issue,” Vanessa said. “But this time the application was returned, stating that the job description did not meet the criteria for part-time workers.”

When applying for permits, international students are only allowed to work in simple jobs like waitressing or working in convenience stores or as office assistants.

Vanessa’s job was to handle Vietnamese communication with customers and management on social media, but when she applied for her last part-time work permit, she was told it didn’t count as part-time work. partiel. To solve the problem, his company had no choice but to downgrade its role to that of “Vietnamese translation”.

“They’re not very consistent with the guidelines, it makes the process extremely confusing, and they often contradict each other,” Vanessa said. “For example, while my university’s guidelines state that expired TOPIK scores are still acceptable, the immigration officer told me to get renewed scores the next time I apply.”

Vanessa also encountered several issues when applying offline, as her application was not processed onsite. Her application process continued beyond the visit through email exchanges with the immigration officer, amending her employment contract to meet the requirements. However, she was never told when it was granted.

“I had to physically go to the immigration office, only to find that my application had been accepted a few days before – it’s just that the employee didn’t contact me at all,” Vanessa said. “Before, I used to get my license immediately, now it takes four to five attempts to finally get it. The process took almost a month and a half.

Applications are supposed to have a processing period of around 10 days, but before obtaining a work permit, students may have their application sent back several times, starting over these 10 days each time.

Thus, students may face long waits before starting a part-time job. This can impact their relationship with their employer once they finally get started, assuming the employer hasn’t already given up and hired someone else instead.

Amy, an American student majoring in Korea, looked for part-time opportunities over the summer, but resorted to working remotely with companies outside of Korea.

“The offer changes once employers find out about my visa type,” Amy said. “Instead of working part-time, they’re turning to unpaid internships or volunteer opportunities, and while those can give me experience, I’m looking for monetary compensation.”

Not all international students are financially supported by their families or financially dependent on part-time salaries, and the difficulty of finding a job can be a burden on their studies and stay in Korea.

Additionally, limitations on the type of work international students can do prevent them from obtaining internships related to their major and limit work experience in their respective fields.

“It’s really a barrier for international students, especially when it comes to building their resumes,” Amy said. “In the long term, the limitations have a negative impact on international students – even entry-level jobs require some experience and not being able to get technical experience related to our major can be a barrier in the job market.”

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☝ Obtain a part-time work permit

How long does the application for a part-time work permit take?

After submitting your documents on the HiKorea platform, the processing time may take up to 10 days, but it may also take just a day or two; each case is different.

After submitting your documents, your application may be resent or you may be asked to provide additional documents. In this case, the 10-day countdown could start again. Although two weeks is a reasonable estimate, the permit can be granted in a few days or take more than a month.

What should I do if I want to change part-time jobs before the end of the initial contract?

After your resignation, be sure to ask your employer for a “certificate of completion” (퇴직 증명서). If your employer doesn’t have a form ready, you can find some templates online. Be sure to include your name, contact information, start and end date, and employer’s name and signature.

When applying for your new work permit, submit the document along with the other required documents.

I live in Incheon — can I work in Seoul?

Temporary work and remote work are limited for international students, so make sure the work location is within an hour of your residence.

Are there any part-time jobs that I cannot do as an international student?

In general, international students are limited to simple jobs like serving as a waitress or working in a convenience store, or clerical assistance like translation or transcription.

Other types of work like manufacturing or construction are restricted unless the student has a TOPIK 4 level and a special permit from their university. If the student has neither and the business registration certificate indicates manufacturing or construction as the type of business, the permit will not be granted.

Finally, it is forbidden to work in foreign language teaching establishments for minors, such as in an English café for children, an English camp or a language institute.

Is there anything to look for in the contract?

The immigration officer in charge of your file may ask you for some changes to your employment contract before granting you the part-time work permit.

Although changes can be made on a case-by-case basis, there are a few things you can keep in mind to save time during the process: Make sure the contract is as clear as possible, as any ambiguity may warrant modification or modification of a clause. removed. Part-time work is not permitted beyond the explicitly stated location, hours and role, so keep that in mind.

Make sure that the times and dates are clearly indicated and correspond in the part-time confirmation form and the employment contract.

Be sure to clearly state your responsibilities in the contract.

My friend got her part-time work permit for a similar job, but mine keeps getting denied; Why is this the case?

Every immigration situation is different and every immigration officer may view a case differently. As part-time job applications are handled on a case-by-case basis, you may be asked to provide more documentation than your friend, even for the same job opportunity. It’s normal and it’s part of the process.

BY LAURA SENIOR PRIMO [lauraseniorp@gmail.com]

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