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One in five foreigners staying in S. Korea illegally: data

Travelers from abroad stand in line to take coronavirus tests at a testing station at Incheon International Airport on Aug. 31, 2022.
Travelers from abroad stand in line to take coronavirus tests at a testing station at Incheon International Airport on Aug. 31, 2022.

Nearly one in five foreigners staying in South Korea are without a valid visa, latest government data shows.

According to the Korea Immigration Service, as of July, a total of 395,068 foreigners were staying illegally, which is 19 percent of the country’s total foreigner population of over 2 million.

The figure, which is up 4,665 from a year earlier, was the highest since September 2020, when the country estimated the illegal immigrant tally to be 396,728.

The ratio of people overstaying their visa out of the total foreign residents – 19 percent --was slightly lower than last year’s 19.9 percent which was the highest level in recent years.

A global economic slump, coupled with travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 crisis, seems to have led many foreign nationals to stay in Korea, even after their visa expired, experts said.

“A large number of foreign nationals on long-term stay permits haven’t departed despite the expiration of their visa due to bleak job prospects back in their home country,” said Oh Jung-eun, head of Hansung University’s research center for immigration policy and multiculturalism.

Authorities appear to be tightening a grip on border controls, following a continued rise in illegal stays.

Last month, some 112 Thai nationals were denied entry upon approval on Jeju Island, following a series of cases involving Thais disappearing after entering the country as part of a tour group. Earlier in the month, a total of 55 Thais had gone missing after coming to Korea for a packaged tour. Authorities suspect they came to the country for illegal jobs.

“There has been a steady demand for illegal foreign workers in the local job market, especially in the agricultural sector where farmers suffer from labor shortages. Many local farmers cannot help but hire these illegal immigrants,” said Kim Do-kyun, a professor at Cheju Halla University specializing in immigration policy.

He called on the government to more effectively manage visa and immigration affairs while addressing the need for a foreign labor force.

By Choi Jae-hee (cjh@heraldcorp.com)

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