No detention centre mapping data


South Korea Immigration Detention

South Korea’s immigration control policy is characterized by tensions between the need for unskilled migrant workers, who have been actively recruited through a government supported program, and the objective of controlling the influx of unauthorized immigrants. The government stepped up efforts to curb undocumented migration in the early 1990s, but the lack of consensus between different political actors resulted in the hesitant implementation of restrictive policies. More recently, the government has begun to systematically arrest, detain, and deport irregular migrants.

Quick Facts


International migrants (2015): 1,327,300
New asylum applications (2016): 7,495

Profile Updated: June 2009

South Korea Immigration Detention Profile

South Korea’s immigration control policy is characterized by tensions between the need for unskilled migrant workers, who have been actively recruited through a government supported program, and the objective of controlling the influx of unauthorized immigrants. The government stepped up efforts to curb undocumented migration in the early 1990s, but the lack of consensus between different political actors resulted in the hesitant implementation of restrictive policies. Beginning in late 2003, however, the government began to systematically arrest, detain, and deport irregular migrants (Kim 2004; Lee 2003).

Detention Policy

There are two forms of immigration detention in South Korea: internment and detention for deportation (Immigration Control Act 1963, art. 51). Internment covers the period during which a person is investigated for suspected violations of the Immigration Control Act; detention for deportation occurs after the investigation has been completed and the detainee formerly enters deportation proceedings (Hwang 2009b). While detention under internment is limited to 10 days (with the possibility of one extension of 10 days), detention under a deportation order is not subject to time limitation (Immigration Control Act 1963).

Any person not in possession of a valid passport or seaman’s pocketbook, as well as with a valid visa, can be deported from South Korea (Immigration Control Act 1963, Art. 7). When a person attempts to flee deportation, or is suspected of attempting to flee, he/she can be issued with an “internment order” (Immigration Control Act 1963, Art. 51). When there is insufficient time to obtain an internment order, an immigration control official may issue an “emergency internment note” to an immigration office or foreigner internment camp. An internment order must then be obtained within forty-eight hours, otherwise the detained person is to be released (Immigration Control Act 1963, Art. 51). Appeals against internment can be made to the Minister of Justice through the head of the office, or at a branch office or foreigner internment camp (Immigration Control Act, Art. 55). The act specifies that non-citizens can be interned for immigraiton-related reasons in a “foreigner internment room, foreigner internment camp, or other place as designated by the Minister of Justice” (Immigration Control Act 1963, Art. 52 (2)).

An immigration officer can issue a “written departure recommendation” with a specified departure time-limit to any non-citizen who has committed a minor offence or violated any part of the Immigration Control Act (Immigration Control Act 1963, Art. 67). When a non-citizen fails to comply with the written departure recommendation, he/she can be issued with a “Departure Order.” A Departure Order can also be issued to anyone who enters South Korea illegally or who does not have the necessary documentation to remain; those whose entry permit provisions are revoked; anyone deemed deportable after being fined for negligence; and any person required to depart after receiving a notification. A time-limit of departure is specified with the written departure order, in addition to restrictions on residence and other “necessary” conditions (Immigration Control Act 1963, Art. 68).

An Immigration Control official has the power to execute a deportation order, and the head of the office, branch office, or non-citizen interment camp may authorize any judicial police official to execute a deportation order, which must be presented to the person subject to it before he/she is “repatriated without delay” to their country of citizenship, or country from which they came to South Korea (Immigration Control Act 1963, Art. 62). If immediate repatriation is not practically possible, a person can be detained until the deportation can be carried out (Immigration Control Act 1963, Art. 63). If repatriation is clearly found to be impossible, the person can be released with “necessary conditions attached,” including restriction on residence (Art. 63 (2)). Temporary release of those issued with an internment or deportation order can be granted when a guarantor or legal representative applies and makes a deposit of guarantee money of up to ten million won (approx. $US 8,000), and with residence restrictions and other conditions (Immigration Control Act 1963, Art. 65).

South Korea became a party to the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention in 1992, and in 1994, the government amended the immigration law to facilitate the asylum application process (Lee 2003). In 2009, the Korean Immigration Service issued a statement announcing revisions to the Immigration Law to enhance the refugee recognition system and facilitate the tracking of applications. In addition, asylum seekers are to be granted permission to work after a certain period (Gyu-geun 2009).

Victims of trafficking reportedly receive limited protection in South Korea, many of whom are lured into the country on “entertainment” visas. According to a 2007 NGO report, “[T]he government … created a provision in the Immigration Control Act that penalizes agents and employers who confiscate passports or certificates of inscription as a means of securing foreign females’ financial obligations under the contract and payment of debt. However, under the same Immigration Control Act, if a migrant woman in the sex industry flees from the employer’s unjust demands and human rights infringement, the employer will simply report that the migrant worker abandoned her workplace, and her stay will become illegal regardless of the circumstances” (MINBYUN 2007, p. 18-19).

Korea’s immigration and detention policies have been subject to numerous criticisms. In 2009, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) concluded that Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9 Paragraph 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 10 of the U.N. Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment are frequently violated during the arrest and detention process of irregular migrants in South Korea (NHRCK 2009).

South Korea’s Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU) has also been a strong critic of various government immigration practices. In 2007, the Ministry of Labour appealed against a Seoul High Court ruling that granted legal status to the MTU, and at the end of 2007, MTU senior officials were arrested and deported. Amnesty International accused the South Korean government of denying migrant workers the right to freely form and join trade unions, and on 25 March 2009, the Governing Body of the ILO adopted its Committee on Freedom of Association, supporting the rights of migrant workers in South Korea, regardless of status, to form and join labour unions (AI 2009).

Since March 2008, the government has reprotedly increased crack downs on unregistered migrant workers (NHRCK 2009) and has released plans to deport half of all irregular migrant workers by 2012 (AI 2009). Amnesty International has called on the government to ratify and implement the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of the Families, as well as the core International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining, and forced labour.

Detention Infrastructure

According to the Immigration Control Act, foreigners can be interned in a “foreigner internment room, foreigner internment camp, or other place as designated by the Minister of Justice” (Immigration Control Act1963, Art. 52 (2)). Undocumented foreigners who are—or are suspected of being—in violation of the Immigration Control Act are detained in an assortment of detention facilities. These include immigration detention centers (“processing centers”) and detention cells at immigration branch offices. The Immigration Bureau, an agency of the Ministry of Justice, maintains two processing centers (in Hwaseong and Cheongju), which are used exclusively for detention purposes, and maintains detention cells in at least 16 branch offices: Seoul, Incheon, Incheon International Airport, Jeju, Busan, Daegu, Ulsan, Gimhae, Masan, Cheongju, Daejeon, Chuncheon, Suwon, Gwangju, Jeonju, and Yeosu (NHRCK 2005a; Hwang 2009a).

In addition, a transit-zone detention site is located in the Seoul airport. According to one source interviewed by the Global Detention Project, this facility is used to prevent people from entering Korean territory and there are many cases in which people have been held at this site for periods exceeding 20 days (Hwang 2009b). The same source said that there has been at least one case in which a person was “detained” by an airline at the airport because immigration authorities said the inadmissible person was the responsibility of the airline. The person was kept for an unknown period of time at an undisclosed location at the airport until the airline was able to put the person on a flight leaving the country (Hwang 2009b).

Lastly, there are two prisons in South Korea that are used exclusively for holding non-citizens for minor criminal offenses: the Cheonan Correctional Institution and the Cheongju Correctional Facility for Women (NHRCK 2008). Non-citizens who have committed serious crimes are imprisoned in other jails in South Korea that are not used exclusively for non-citizens. In certain cases, when the criminal offense is deemed grave enough, non-citizens can lose their residence status or have their visa revoked. In these cases, the non-citizen is transferred to immigration custody after completing his/her criminal sentence and confined in an immigration detention facility until deported (Hwang 2009b).  

While all immigration detainees are under the authority of the Immigration Bureau and the management of detention facilities is the responsibility of the bureau, private security guards and public service personnel are sometimes employed in the facilities (NHRCK 2007b; Hwang 2009b). Immigration detention facilities are prison-like, using cells to confine detainees (AI 2006; NHRCK 2007a). Human rights groups report that detainees suffer physical and verbal abuse; overcrowding and poor sanitation (especially in Seoul, Suwon, Incheon, Yeosu and Incheon International Airport immigration offices); insufficient physical exercise; restricted communication with the outside world (including minimal visitor accessibility and in some cases censorship of detainee letters); and a lack of privacy, with constant camera surveillance (AI 2006; NHRCK 2007a; 2008; GONGGAM 2007). In addition, during the investigation process, detainees at times have been denied access to interpreters and forced to sign documents in a foreign language (AI 2006; GONGGAM 2007).

In February 2007, a fire at the Yeosu detention centre killed 10 detainees and left many wounded. Detention centre staff were criticized for reportedly spraying fire extinguishers through cell bars and not unlocking cell doors to let detainees flee. The incident caused public outrage, and was investigated by the National Human Rights Committee, which issued a series of recommendations on detention centre reform in a February 2008 report (NHRCK 2008).

Facts & Figures

According to an unofficial estimate, in 2003 the country’s total detention capacity was 1,300 (Van Volkenburg 2003). A survey conducted by the NHRCK in 2005 reported that the Hwaseong and Cheonju Immigration Processing Centers held 413 and 144 immigration detainees, respectively. Almost 40 percent of the detainees questioned originated from China, with the balance mainly comprised of migrants from Bangladesh, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Thailand, and Indonesia (NHRCK 2005a).

The number of irregular migrants in the country, except during the 1997-1999 economic crisis, increased substantially during the mid-1990s—from an estimated 80,000 in 1995 to 289,000 in 2002 (Park 2004). By 2002, undocumented migrants amounted to 70 per cent of South Korea’s total foreign labour force (Park 2004). Despite the implementation of the EPS scheme (see “Detention Policy”) and routine crackdown operations since 2003, the number of irregular immigrants remains high. In 2006, the Immigration Bureau estimated that there were 211,988 irregular immigrants living in the country, an increase from 180,792 in 2005, of which 18,574 were deported in that year (Immigration Bureau 2006; 2007). According to the Ministry of Justice, as of February of 2007 there were 208,271 undocumented migrant workers. After the introduction of the Voluntary Return Program in 2003, the number decreased from 298,000 in September to as low as 138,000 that year, but has been steadily increasing since then. The government arrested 97,736 undocumented migrants between 2004 and March 2007 (MINBYUN 2007, p. 7-8). The largest number of irregular migrants originated from China, including ethnic Korean Chinese (Seol 2000), with significant numbers of Bangladeshi, Filipinos, Mongolians, and Vietnamese also arrested (Kim 2004).

A total of 1,087 asylum applications were made in South Korea between 1994 and 2006, excluding North Korean “refugees” who are recognized as Republic of Korea citizens. Only 52 of these were granted asylum during that year (Park 2004). Most applicants originated from China, Myanmar, Nepal, and Uganda (NHRCK 2007b).

References

  • Act Concerning the Employment Permit for Migrant Workers (EPS Act).2003. Republic of Korea.

  • Amnesty International (AI). 2009. Amnesty International Public Statement: South Korea: Government Must Protect the Rights of Migrant Workers. AI Index: ASA 25/004/2009. Embargoed until 26 April 2009.

  • Amnesty International (AI). 2006. Migrant Workers Are Also Human Beings.AI Index: ASA 25/007/200. August 2006.

  • Esteban, Ma. Angelina I. 2001. The Dynamics of Illegal Migration: The Phillipines – South Korea Case. Paper presented at the 1st DOLE Research Conference at Occupational Safety and Health Center. Quezon City, The Phillipines. 5 December 2001.

  • Cook, Terry. 2003. “South Korea Begins to Deport Migrant Workers.” World Socialist Web Site. 8 December 2003.http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/dec2003/kore-d08_prn.shtml (accessed 6 December 2007).

  • Government for Foreigners. Website. “Detention of Immigration Offender.”http://www.g4f.go.kr/pt/InfoDetailR_en.pt?bbscttTitle=Immigration+offender+investigation&categoryId=2&parentId=505&catSeq=&showMenuId=373&fromOrgPath=&toOrgPath=&userId=&resorceCont=info+boards+%3E+Immigration (accessed 30 November 2007).

  • Gyu-geun, Cha. 2009. “Korea to Enhance Refugee Recognition System.”The Korea Times. 19 January 2009.

  • Hwang, Pill-Kyu (Attorney at Law, Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group GONGGAM.). 2007. In discussion with Navitri Putri Guillaume (Global Detention Project). 27 March 2007. Global Detention Project. Geneva, Switzerland.

  • Hwang, Pill Kyu (Attorney at Law, Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group GONGGAM.) 2009a. Email message to Michael Flynn (Global Detention Project). 28 April 2009. Global Detention Project. Geneva, Switzerland.

  • Hwang, Pill Kyu (Attorney at Law, Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group GONGGAM.) 2009b. Telephone interview with Michael Flynn (Global Detention Project). 3 June 2009. Global Detention Project. Geneva, Switzerland.

  • Immigration Bureau, Republic of Korea. 2006. Immigration Bureau Publications: Statistics. Immigration Planning Division, Immigration Bureau, Republic of Korea. 21 April 2006.http://www.immigration.go.kr/HP/IMM/primage/e20-24.pdf (accessed 29 November 2007).

  • Immigration Bureau, Republic of Korea. 2007. Statistical Yearbook on Departure and Arrival 2006. Department of Intelligence Analysis, Immigration Bureau, Republic of Korea (in Korean).

  • Immigration Control Act 1963. Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea.

  • Interlocals.net. 2007. “Reckless inequality: Dramatic arrests of Migrant Trade Union leadership highlight South Korea’s failed labour and migration policy”.Interlocals.net. 30 November 2007. http://interlocals.net/?q=node/95(accessed 4 May 2009).

  • Kim, Wang-Bae. 2004. “Migration of Foreign Workers into South Korea: From Periphery to Semi-Periphery in the Global Labor Market.” Asian Survey, Vol. 44, no. 2 March / April 2004, p. 316-335.

  • Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group (GONGGAM). 2007. Documenting the Undocumented: The Human Rights Situation of Irregular Migrants in Korea.Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group.

  • Lee, Shin-wha. 2003. The Realities of South Korea’s Migration Policy.Human Flows Project Research Paper, Monterey Institute of International Studies. http://gsti.miis.edu/CEAS-PUB/2003_LeeSW.pdf (accessed May 2009).

  • MINBYUN – Lawyers for a Democratic Society. 2007. NGO Report under ICERD: Republic of Korea. 71st Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on the 14th Periodic Report submitted by the Republic of Korea under Article 9 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. June 2007.

  • Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea. 2003. “News and Data: Government Crackdown on Illegal Aliens Begins Next Week (14 November 2003).” Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea. http://www.moj.go.kr/ (accessed 6 December 2007).

  • Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea. 2004a. “News and Data: Justice Ministry Uncovers 140 Illegal Foreign Workers (23 August 2004).” Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea. http://www.moj.go.kr/ (accessed 6 December 2007).

  • Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea. 2004b. “News and Data: Crackdown Uncovers 305 Illegal Foreign Workers (27 November 2004).” Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea. http://www.moj.go.kr/ (accessed 6 December 2007).

  • Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea. 2005. “News and Data: Gov’t to Run 26 Teams to Crackdown Illegal Aliens (7 March 2005).” Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea. http://www.moj.go.kr/ (accessed 6 December 2007).

  • Ministry of Justice. Website. "Immigration Bureau: Understanding the Immigration Service." Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea.http://www.moj.go.kr/  (accessed 5 October 2007). 

  • National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). Website. “Statistics.” NHRCK.http://humanrights.go.kr/english/information/statistics_01.jsp#e (accessed December 12, 2007).

  • National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). 2005a. Survey on Undocumented Migrants in Detention Facilities of Korea. Seoul National Human Rights Commission of Korea (in Korean).

  • National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). 2005b. “Violence and Cruelty in the Process of Detaining Migrant Workers Should Be Eliminated.” NHRCK News. 26 April 2005. http://humanrights.go.kr/english/(accessed 12 December 2007).

  • National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). 2007a. “NHRCK Reports Findings of Ex Officio Investigation into Fire at Yeosu Immigration Office Detention Facilities.” NHRCK News. 12 April 2007.http://humanrights.go.kr/english/ (accessed 12 December 2007).

  • National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). 2007b. 2007 Survey on Undocumented Migrants in Detention Facilities of Korea (non-final version). National Human Rights Commission of Korea (in Korean).

  • National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). 2008. Summary Conclusions of On-Site Investigation of Immigration Detention Centers and Correctional Facilities. NHRCK. 26 February 2008.http://www.humanrights.go.kr/english/search_view_detail.jsp (accessed 18 May 2009).

  • National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). 2009. Findings of On-site Investigations into Immigration Detention Centers. NHRCK. 22 January 2009. http://www.humanrights.go.kr/english/activities/view_01.jsp(accessed 18 May 2009).

  • Park, Young-bum. 1997. “Issues Paper from the Republic of South Korea.” InMigration Issues in the Asia Pacific. Compiled by Patrick Brownlee and Coleen Mitchell. University of Wollongong. Australia.http://www.unesco.org/most/apmrnwp1.htm (accessed 5 December 2007).

  • Park, Young-bum. 2004. South Korea: Balancing Labor Demand With Strict Controls. Migration Information Source.http://www.migrationinformation.org/Profiles/display.cfm?ID=272 (accessed 6 December 2007).

  • Prey, Robert and Seon Ok Lee. 2006. “Tragic Fire Illuminates South Korea’s Treatment of Migrant Workers.” Japan Focus, March 15, 2006.http://www.japanfocus.org/products/topdf/2383 (accessed 11 December 2007).

  • Seol, Dong-Hoon. 2000. “Past and Present of Foreign Workers in Korea 1987-2000.” Asia Solidarity Quarterly 2, no. 2 (2000): 6-31.

  • Suzuki, Morris; Tessa, Julia Yonetani and Hyun Mooam. 2006. “Korea’s Migrant Workers Find a Voice on Air: An Interview with Mahbub and Minod Moktan from MWTV.” AsiaRights, Issue 6.http://rspas.anu.edu.au/asiarightsjournal/AsiaRights%20Interview%20MWTV.pdf (accessed 11 December 2007).

  • UNHCR. 2007. UNHCR Statistical Yearbook Country Data Sheet – Republic of Korea. UNHCR. 30 April 2007.

  • Van Volkenburg, Matt. 2003. “Drag the Illegal Foreign Workers Out Into The Sun.” Znet. 18 December 2003.http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=4720 (accessed 29 November 2007).

  • World Organization Against Torture. 2004. “South Korea: Forced Deportation of and Denial of Medical Attention for Migrant Workers.” Urgent Appeals. 2 April 2004. http://omct.org/index.php?id=&lang=eng&actualPageNumber=2&articleId=4769&itemAdmin=article(accessed 11 December 2007).

Centres List

No detention centres data available

Statistics Expand all



57,451

Criminal prison population

2016

  • Criminal prison population
NumberObservation Date
57,4512016
47,9692013
47,4712010
46,3132007
57,1842004
62,2352001
67,8831998
60,1661995
55,1591992


3.5

Percentage of foreign prisoners

2016

  • Percentage of foreign prisoners
PercentageObservation Date
3.52016
3.22013


114

Prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population)

2016

  • Prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population)
NumberObservation Date
1142016
982013
992010
982007
1222004
1352001
1491998
1351995
1261992



19,211,000

Population

2015

  • Population
NumberObservation Date
19,211,0002015
48,600,0002012


1,327,300

International migrants

2015

  • International migrants
NumberObservation Date
1,327,3002015
1,232,2002013


2.6

International migrants as a percentage of the population

2015

  • International migrants as a percentage of the population
PercentageObservation Date
2.62015
2.52013


1,773

Refugees

2016

  • Refugees
NumberObservation Date
1,7732016
1,4632015
5472014


0.02

Ratio of refugees per 1000 inhabitants

2014

  • Ratio of refugees per 1000 inhabitants
NumberObservation Date
0.022014
0.012012


7,495

Total number of new asylum applications

2016

  • Total number of new asylum applications
NumberObservation Date
7,4952016
2,8962014
1,3612012


5.4

Refugee recognition rate

2014

  • Refugee recognition rate
NumberObservation Date
5.42014


197

Stateless persons

2016

  • Stateless persons
NumberObservation Date
1972016
2002015
1942014

International Law Expand all

Ratio of relevant international treaties ratified
  11/16
International treaty reservations Show sources
NameReservation YearObservation Date
CRC Article 4019912017
Individual complaints procedure Show sources
NameAcceptance Year
ICERD, declaration under article 14 of the Convention1997
ICCPR, First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 19661990
CEDAW, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 19992006
CAT, declaration under article 22 of the Convention2007
Ratio of complaints procedures accepted Show sources
NumberObservation Date
4/72017

Relevant recommendations of the UN Universal Periodic Review Show sources
Recomendation IssuedYear IssuedObservation Date
No20082017
No20122017

Institutions Expand all

Custodial authority Show sources
AgencyMinistryMinistry TypologyObservation Date
Immigration BureauMinistry of JusticeJustice2009
Immigration BureauMinistry of JusticeJustice2008
Types of detention facilities used in practice
Immigration detention centre (Administrative)Immigration field office (Administrative)Transit centre (Administrative)Reception centre (Administrative)Offshore detention centre (Administrative)Hospital (Administrative)Border guard (Administrative)Police station (Criminal)National penitentiary (Criminal)Local prison (Criminal)Juvenile detention centre (Criminal)Informal camp (Ad hoc)Immigration detention centre (Ad hoc)Surge facility (Ad hoc)Observation Date
2015

Socio Economic Data Expand all

Gross Domestic Product per capita (in USD) Show sources
Gross Domestic Product per capita (in USD)Observation Date
27,9702014
25,9772013
Remittances to the country Show sources
Remittances to the country (in millions USD)Observation Date
6,4812014
9,2572011
Remittances from the country Show sources
Remittances from the country (in millions USD)Observation Date
11,3852010
Unemployment Rate Show sources
Unemployment RateObservation Date
3.52014
Net official development assistance (ODA) (in millions USD) Show sources
Net official development assistance (ODA) (in USD)Observation Date
1,5972012
1,3252011
Human Development Index Ranking (UNDP) Show sources
Human Development Index Ranking (UNDP)UNDP four-tiered rankingObservation Date
17Very high2015
15Very high2014

Pew Global Attitudes Poll on Immigration Show sources
% who agree with the statement “We should restrict and control entry of people into our country more than we do now.”Observation Date
252007

Country Links


Additional Resources


Kidnapped, Trafficked, Detained? The Implications of Non-state Actor Involvement in Immigration Detention

This article critically assesses a range of new non-state actors who have become involved in the deprivation of liberty of migrants and asylum seekers, describes the various forces that appear to be driving their engagement, and makes a series of recommendations concerning the role of non-state actors and detention in global efforts to manage international migration.

Capitalism and Immigration Control: What Political Economy Reveals about the Growth of Detention Systems: GDP Working Paper #16

Assessments of the political economy of detention point to a key challenge that is common to countries across the globe: how economic insecurities of host population’s translate into xenophobia and ethno-nationalist demands for more deportations, detentions, and walls.

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