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[Newsmaker] New visas, faster entries: Immigration changes in 2023

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Feb. 1, 2023 - 14:22

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South Korea has recently rolled out a series of changes for foreign visitors and residents in the country, ranging from new visas to giving young children access to automated immigration gates at airports.

The measures are intended to draw more foreigners, from tourists to long-term workers, after a period of pandemic-induced strict border controls.

Introduction of new visas

Two new visa types will be made available to visitors, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced last month.

The “K-culture training visa” targeting teens wishing to learn more about Korean culture is expected to be introduced this year. Visa holders will be allowed to stay in the country for up to two years, and they will be required to receive education or training in sectors related to Hallyu, such as K-pop.

Details are to be ironed out soon, as the government is aiming for a March introduction.

Another addition is the so-called “workcation” visa, which is Korea’s version of what is better known internationally as the "digital nomad visa." It is a temporary residence permit that will allow foreigners to stay in Korea while working remotely for an employer in their home country.

Slated to be introduced in the second half of this year, the digital nomad visa can be extended for up to two years.

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Change of regulations for foreign workers

Regulations for foreign workers here will also undergo change.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment and Labor announced last month a plan to allow long-term foreign employees with E-9 visas, or manual labor workers, to work here for up to 10 years, without having to leave the country.

The E-9 visa, which covers foreigners in fields like fishing, farming, manufacturing and other labor-intensive jobs, currently permits workers to stay for three years. It can be extended for one year and 10 months, meaning one can work here with the visa for up to four years and 10 months. Although the permit can be further extended, one would have to depart and reenter Korea for the renewal.

While the maximum period has provisionally been set to 10 years, officials said they will hold further discussions with related government bodies and those in the industry to extend it even further.

The ministry is also mulling expanding the range of jobs that E-9 visa holders can work in.

Undergraduates with D-2 student visas will be allowed to work for up to 30 hours a week, up from the current 25 hours. Rules for graduate students, who can work up to 35 hours per week, remain unchanged.

Another change is that hotels will be able to hire five foreigners, up from the current two, on the E-7 visa. The E-7 visa is issued to foreign nationals in white collar industries and applicants have to be invited by a public or private organization.

D-2 visa holders, who are fluent in Korean and not eligible for E-7 visas, could be allowed to stay and work in Korea with the E-9 visa, the ministry plan shows.

More information on the qualifications for each visa type is available on the government-run Korea Visa Portal.

Automated immigration clearance for foreign children

As of Jan. 1, 2023, any foreign residents staying in the country for the long term 7 or older can use the Smart Entry Service, an automated immigration clearance system. Prior to this year, one had to be at least 17 years of age to use it.

According to Korean law, a long-term foreign resident refers to a person staying in the country for 91 days or more and is required to register with the authorities within the 90 days of entering Korea.

“Since foreigners had to be 17 or above to use the SES, there had been complaints that foreign families with young children could not use the system,” the Korea Immigration Service said.

For a long-term foreign resident aged 7-17 to use the system, one must visit the 19 registration centers across the country.

The registration centers are located in Terminal 1 and 2 of Incheon Airport, Gimpo International Airport, Gimhae International Airport, Daegu International Airport, Jeju International Airport, Cheongju International Airport, Coex City Airport Terminal in southern Seoul, Seoul Station, Port of Incheon, Port of Busan. They are also at immigration offices in Seoul, Daejeon, Cheongju, Gwangju, Busan, Incheon and Suwon.

Inquiries can be made via the Immigration Contact Center at 1345.

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Full-color residence card

Residence cards for foreigners -- formerly called the Alien Registration Card -- will be issued in full color starting April 1. The issued cards carry black-and-white photos.

Photos on the new cards will be in full color and larger for easier identification, officials said.

A QR code will be added to the card that links to information about the holder.