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15 June 2020 – Republic of Korea (South Korea)

Non-Citizens Staying Irregularly in South Korea Wait to Report their Voluntary Departure at an Immigration Office at Incheon International Airport in South Korea, (Yonhap, EPA-EFE,
Non-Citizens Staying Irregularly in South Korea Wait to Report their Voluntary Departure at an Immigration Office at Incheon International Airport in South Korea, (Yonhap, EPA-EFE, "Hundreds of Undocumented Migrants leaving South Korea," UPI, 13 March 2020,

As of the end of 2019, there were an estimated 360,000 undocumented foreign nationals living in South Korea. Amidst fears that they would not seek testing and treatment for fear of being arrested, in late January South Korean authorities announced that they were scrapping the requirement for medical staff to report undocumented migrant patients to immigration authorities. Authorities have thus appeared to create a “firewall” similar to other countries, like Ireland, which have taken on added importance because of the Covid-19 crisis (see 29 April update). Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on 29 April, “Due to their unstable status, there is a high chance that they won’t seek testing even though they have suspected (COVID-19) symptoms and this is a blind spot that is possibly leading to community transmission. … If we label them illegal immigrants and crack down on them, they will go into hiding more deeply, which could create a blind spot.” Problematically however, many undocumented migrants are not aware of this new protection, and activists have reported that some are still fearful of seeking assistance.

Prior to the start of the crisis, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) introduced a Illegal Resident Reduction Plan in December 2019 to encourage undocumented workers to leave the country voluntarily. According to the plan, undocumented foreign nationals have until 30 June 2020 to voluntarily leave the country. According to the Ministry of Justice, from 1 July 2020 onwards, operations will be initiated to reduce the size of the undocumented population within the country by arresting, detaining, and deporting them. Undocumented migrants will also face fines (and black-listing if they fail to pay the fines.)

According to this scheme, persons who leave South Korea before 30 June 2020 will be exempted from fines and entry bans, and will instead be given a chance to re-enter Korea with a C-3 visa (single, valid for up to 90 consecutive days). Those re-entering Korea with a C-3 single visa will later gain an opportunity to be eligible for obtaining a C-3 multiple visa (valid for one year allowing consecutive stay for up to 90 days) if they successfully leave Korea before their C-3 single visa expires. The C-3 visa does not grant holders the right to work. The minimum waiting period required before applying for a C-3 single visa varies depending on when undocumented workers declare their voluntary departure. (Those who declared their wish to voluntarily leave the country by 31 March will be able to apply for a C-3 single visa three months after the departure date. Those who declared a wish to depart in April would face a four month wait; while those who declared in May face a five month wait; and those who declare in June will face a six month wait.) If an undocumented person is required to quarantine due to coronavirus, the declaration period will be extended to the date when the quarantine period ends, provided they submit a medical record that they have received treatment for the infectious disease. The day that they seek medical help will be recognized as the day of the declaration.

On 21 January 2020, the MOJ reported that 8,033 foreign nationals had voluntarily departed since the announcement of the scheme in December 2019. In early March, it was reported that more than 5,000 undocumented Thai nationals had opted to leave South Korea due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in the country. On 11 March 2020, the MOJ established an online system for undocumented migrants to declare their voluntary departures. The declaration must take place at least three days before the departure date. Between 11 to 13 March 2020, the MOJ announced that 416 people had self-reported their intention to depart.