2007 JET Podcast
Some helpful hints from folks already on the JET Programme. It covers all of those very specific things that you really need to know but may have forgotten to ask or that you just couldn't find answers to. Click here.

Friday, April 13, 2007

JET and its forms...WTF?!

So, after finally hearing that I have the job, I am now going through the tedious process of getting all my eggs in one basket so that I'm legal and okay to leave the country and be hired to a foreign Board of Education.

It sucks.

Really, it does.

So, for those of you who are thinking of ever applying to JET, please know that you shouldn't actually breathe your sigh of relief until AFTER you get your placement request, because the crap you'll have to slug your way through is just painful. Or maybe I'm just aggravated easily. Or maybe I'm just a brat. Who knows? Anyway...

The list of things to do before leaving or even getting a contract for the job are as follows:

Health Check
Reply Form
FBI Criminal History
IRS Residency Form

They seem innocuous enough, but in the following tale, you will see they're really just a pain in the bum (and kind of expensive, depending on your situation).

The reply form was easy. I basically told them that "yes", I would be accepting the offered position, reaffirmed my permanent address, and sent in two extra passport photos and some passport information. I had already sent in a copy of my passport and diploma when I applied so I didn't have to worry about that portion. I mailed this off in no time (something like two days after receiving word of acceptance).

The FBI Criminal History form was a bit more difficult, as it required fingerprints and notarization and there are not a whole bunch of places that do fingerprints. My mom warned me that the sheriff's office near where she worked charged $10, which may or may not be a reasonable cost. I'm not sure, since I haven't had any other reason to be fingerprinted and do not know how much it costs the police for things (like the card, the ink, blah blah).

However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Sheriff's office near me (which is so randomly out of the way of regular traffic, it's surprising anyone can find it) didn't charge a thing. They didn't really ask why I needed it or anything. So, I sent that along with a really confusing generic cover letter (that would enable the FBI to send the results to JET), a notarized form, and an $18 processing fee through the mail, regular postage. Easy enough. Not as easy as the reply form, but not too bad.

The IRS Residency form was, like many things dealing with the IRS, hell on earth. For starters, the form was buried very deep into the IRS website. Then, to back up for a second, you are not really filling out the actual form you need to prove to the Japanese government that you are a US citizen (so you don't have to pay Japanese income taxes), you are filling out a form to receive the form you need to prove to the Japanese government that you are a US citizen for tax purposes. The cost for up to 20 different ones is $35, but you can't get multiple copies for the same country. So, you end up paying $35 for what amounts to one sheet of paper, that, in the event your house blows up before you can leave the country, you'll have to pay to have reprocessed.

The instructions for this two-page form are 12 pages long, if that gives you any indication of its difficulty.

I filled out the form three different times, as the IRS had changed its requirements from those provided by JET and there was much confusion on the finer points of the form. I called the IRS myself just to make sure I was filling it out right. At any given time I was unsure of (a) did they actually want a copy of my 2006 tax returns (b) which address to send it to (c) was the IRS really the bureaucratic, earthly equivalent of hell and (d) did I really need to save the thousands of yen on income tax payments?

Finally, I figured it out (I think) and sent it off, but stupidly forgot to enclose payment. Luckily, I found out later that I could just pay for it online -- which I did, and am hoping and praying that the IRS's databases are all in sync or at worst that they won't just FORGET to call and tell me that they can't process my form because they are unaware of any payment being made for it.

Three down, one thing left. As simple sounding as a physical may seem, this was by far the worst.

My foray into the relatively simple physical they wanted me to get answered one of my earlier questions. The IRS, in fact, NOT the bureaucratic, earthly equivalent of hell. The US health care system is. My mistake.

Let's just get a few things out of the way first though. For one, I pay good money every month for health insurance through my job. The coverage is quite good and, until now, I have never had any complaints. I don't use it for much. I haven't been to the emergency room yet. I get something like one physical a year, a tooth cleaning, and one or two visits during bad sinus or flu times. Last year, I had a colonoscopy, but that was preventative, so, no biggie.

So, I make an appointment at my primary care physician, go in and show them the form that JET wants filled out and they completely freak out. They say it's not covered under insurance. I call the insurance company and they say, of course, I'm completely covered for physical exams. After further investigation, I discover that while I am covered for physicals, I cannot get a physical done for JET. So, I ask them, if I can get the physical (like I would get my yearly physical) and bill it as such, if they could just fill out the JET form with that very same information that would be in my file. They say no. I ask how much an out-of-insurance visit of that sort would cost me and they quote almost $300. For a physical!?? A physical I don't even really want or need?!!

I call JET and tell them about this little minor hiccup, thinking that maybe they'll understand. I mean, $300 IS lot of money for an unnecessary medical procedure. I tell them that I can send them the results of my physical in a different format. That way it can be covered under my insurance (because in actuality, it is only the presence of JET's form that's not covered, not the physical or the results). They say no, they need it on that exact form.

So, I'm pissed, but I say okay. I talk to Ted, whose mom is a doctor and she agrees to get take the results my doctor will give me and fill out the form for me. Yay! I found a way! The problem is, the form is supposed to be in by the 20th of April. No later. Despite the fact that the FBI background check won't arrive possibly until I'm already in Japan, despite the fact that the IRS form won't arrive until next month or later, for some unknown reason the medical form (which only substantiates that you were truthful in the initial self-medical assessment in the application) MUST be in by the 20th.

I can't possibly get it in by the 20th since my new doctor's appointment is on the 13th. I have to get the results, mail them to Ted's mom, have her receive and fill it out and mail it to JET from North Carolina. I mean, maybe it will get there, but realistically, I think not.

They wouldn't budge. So, I'm like, do I pay $300 for a physical or $25 bucks for a physical whose form might not make it to Atlanta JET by the 20th and possibly disqualify me from the program I worked so hard to get into? And what if they suddenly decide that I can't go -- such as if the medical results show something they don't like or they can't find a placement for me (highly unlikely)? Am I just out of $300? Too bad? Mind you, I haven't even signed a contract, because in order to get the contract the medical form must be sent in. For $300, they wouldn't have guaranteed me a single thing.

And let me just pose something to you folks, in case you need more convincing that this is just plain stupid:

In any other arena, employers pay for any pre-employment exams for their employees. Drug tests, background checks are all taken care of (monetarily) by the employer, because otherwise you are asking a person to pay to be hired, which may amount to discrimination in hiring. If a person can't pay, do they not get hired? That's taking it to the extreme, but I think you get the point. And worst of all, I wasn't the only one having this problem. Others, many of them still in college (college=broke) were being turned away by their insurance providers and told to pay hundreds for this stupid health check. And to top it all off, JET would not budge to allow these people (myself included) to find a different way that might take a day or two longer.

There were also people, whose insurance or physician didn't mind filling out the JET form that couldn't get appointments with their PCPs until very dangerously close to the form deadline. Totally out of their control, but alas...

So, I emailed JET and stressed to them the cost again and said, hey, this is when it's probably going to be in but, I will try my best to get it there by your deadline. They finally said OK.

So now, after having had my physical, I am about to send this stuff to Ted's mom. Perhaps she can fax it to them to get it there faster...who knows?

All in all, a ridiculous set of hoops to jump through. But I guess it keeps me from worrying about going to another country for a year. Again, maybe these things weren't such a big deal after they were all said and done, but please remember I'm in graduate school full time and I work full time. I'm already stressed, and then to be initially told that perhaps my 6 months of hard work and waiting to get into the program could be totally worthless because of a physical exam -- that's classic.

Cheers all.

I'm planning on documenting this whole thing from start to finish. And it's going to be a very frank account, complete with all my little anecdotes.

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