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Seoul toughens regulation of Chinese cruise tourism

South Korea has toughened the application procedures for Chinese cruise passengers visiting the country without visa, the Justice Ministry said Monday. The move is widely seen as a response to a spike in the number of illegal immigrants.

An official from the Korea Immigration Service at the Justice Ministry said that local travel agencies hosting Chinese cruise tourists are now mandated to submit documents issued by Chinese authorities. The documents should confirm the identity of the tourists and be handed in at least 24 hours before the cruise ship makes port in a South Korea harbor.

“Basically, we’re asking travel agencies to reinforce management (of Chinese tourists),” the KIS official told The Korea Herald. He explained that it is a “precautionary measure” to weed out those who enter the country disguised as tourists and become illegal immigrants.

The new regulation has been applied since Nov. 11.

In the past, travel agencies submitted the names and identities of Chinese tourists and the KIS had to check with Chinese authorities to verify the information. This caused problem as the agencies sometimes turned in fake information, and China’s huge population made it difficult for the KIS to check their authenticity.

In May last year, the South Korean government implemented a system which allows foreign cruise tourists to enter and stay here for three days without a visa ― a move to help boost the local tourism industry. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, 167,000 foreign cruise tourists visited Korea in the month of September this year, up 38 percent from the same period last year. The number of inbound tourists coming into the country via sea climbed 24 percent on-year in the January-September period.

The number of Chinese tourists shot up nearly 48 percent to 3.08 million, and Chinese cruise tourists nearly tripled to 329, 561 during the same period, according to the Justice Ministry.

The influx of tourists with shaky documents, however, is feared to worsen the problem of illegal immigrants in Korea. In July, 17 percent more foreigners entered the country illegally via Jejudo Island by taking advantage of using the visa-free system, according to data made public by Rep. An Min-suk of the Democratic Party. As of July 31, about 28 percent of 285,000 foreigners who made a short-term visit to Korea this year became illegal immigrants.

It is estimated that there are 180,000 foreigners in Korea illegally, and the proportion of those who are Chinese stands at 39 percent.

By Yoon Min-sik (