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Jeju to introduce electronic travel authorization to curb illegal immigration

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Jeju International Airport is crowded with tourists on July 22. Newsis
Jeju International Airport is crowded with tourists on July 22. Newsis

By Lee Hae-rin

The government plans to introduce a system called Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) on the southern resort island of Jeju, because an existing visa-waiver program has served as a conduit for illegal immigration and resulted in visitors from other countries staying beyond the dates listed on their travel documents, the Ministry of Justice said on Thursday.

Also known as K-ETA, with K standing for Korea, the electronic travel authorization is the Korea Immigration Service's online system that authorizes foreigners to enter via internet and mobile applications. Passengers from 112 visa-waiver countries who wish to enter Korea may register their travel information and receive authorization before departure.

The system has been in place nationwide since September last year, but Jeju, the country's top travel destination for international tourists, has been an exception.

On June 1, the island's borders reopened along with a 30-day visa waiver program, which had been suspended since February 2020 to reduce COVID-19 infection cases.

During the suspension period, the number of foreigners visiting the island plummeted from the pre-pandemic level of 1.73 million to 210,000 in 2020 and to 40,000 last year, according to the Jeju Tourism Association.

However, the number of foreign visitors attempting to take advantage of the visa waiver program and remain beyond their authorized period of stay has been increasing.

On Tuesday, 112 Thai nationals out of 183 who arrived on Jeju via a chartered flight were denied entry as they were found to have unclear reasons for travel. The next day, 108 additional Thai visitors out of 182 were also turned down.

Also, 23 Mongolian nationals who entered the country on a group tour of 156 people have not returned to their home country 30 days after entering Korea and became illegal residents. One of these illegal residents was caught at the Port of Jeju while attempting to aboard a boat headed to the southwestern city of Mokpo. Two others were found illegally employed on Jeju Island.

In response, the justice ministry plans to introduce K-ETA to the island's border control as an additional step to preventing the entry of foreign nationals illegally seeking employment or in the country.

An overwhelming 93 percent or 206 out of 220 Thai nationals who were denied entry by the immigration office this week at Jeju airport had been denied entry on the K-ETA system before departure, the ministry said.

There has been no signs of a decline in the number of tourists due to the implementation of the electronic travel authorization system in countries like the U.S, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the ministry said.

Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon said the ministry will streamline the immigration process for legitimate entries and enforce border controls against attempts at unlawful entries.

Lee Hae-rin

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