June 1, 2021 | The Korea Times
▲ A quarantine official passes by entrants from abroad lined up for undergoing quarantine procedures at Incheon International Airport, in this April 17, 2020 photo. Korea Times photo by Lee Han-ho
The rate of foreigners illegally staying here has hit a record high this year, with migrant workers and travelers being held back due to the protracted COVID-19 pandemic, data showed Sunday.
According to the data released by the Korea Immigration Service, the rate of foreigners overstaying visas in the country stood at 19.7 percent as of April, the highest ever recorded.
Sitting at 16.3 percent last January when the first coronavirus patient was reported here, the rate has increased steadily, other than last July. It rose to 18 percent in April 2020, when the first wave of the pandemic hit the country, and exceeded 19 percent in November in the wake of the third wave of COVID-19.
The number of foreigners staying in the country illegally has not shown any signs of decreasing as well. After reaching a record high of 396,700 people in July 2020, the number posted a slight decline until the end of last year before bouncing back, standing at 392,000 in April.
According to the data, the sharp surge was due to foreigners who entered the country for employment, but ended up overstaying their visas because of the dangers of traveling internationally during the pandemic, and the lack of jobs in their home countries.
Long-term immigrants overstaying their visas numbered about 115,000 as of April, up 18.9 percent from a year earlier.
The Ministry of Justice came up with various measures when foreign nationals overstaying their visas after the COVID-19 outbreak emerged as a blind spot for quarantine work.
Illegally staying foreigners who voluntarily left Korea by June last year were exempted from fines and entry bans when they re-visit the country, and they were also allowed re-entry with a 90-day short-term visit (C-3) single visa.
In addition, undocumented immigrants wanting to leave the country voluntarily were also allowed to use an online system to give prior notification to the government. However, the number of foreigners illegally staying has not declined yet.