중앙데일리

Do Koreans still have to get a visa to visit the U.S.?

While some will still need visas, many people will be able to enter visa-free.

Nov 04,2008

With only a few exceptions, everyone needs a visa to visit a foreign country.

A visa, which is stamped on one’s passport, is an official authorization permitting the passport holder to enter and travel within the country issuing it. It clearly states the nature and the period of time of the visit.

Some countries that signed special agreements with Korea may not require Korean travelers to get a visa as long as their stay in the country is for a short period of time, say two weeks or even a month, for recreational travel. But some countries will require a visa to even set foot in the country, regardless of the duration of stay.

Currently more than 40 countries such as Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Guam allow Koreans to enter and stay for weeks without a visa. Meanwhile, several countries impose strict visa requirements on Koreans hoping to visit. One of the most notable examples until this month is the United States.

For decades, Koreans hoping to visit the U.S. had to go through an extensive screening process to get a U.S. visa, including a thorough review of the traveler’s financial situation and employment status, and an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.

Visa applicants had to prepare more than 10 certificates and statements from their workplace, school, government office, banks and other institutions to prove their employment and financial status, and factor in a lot of time required to get a visa, a process which usually takes at least two or three weeks.

On the street close to the Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun, downtown Seoul, long queues of people often form every day and inch their way along the side of the U.S. Embassy into its consular office. These people are U.S. visa applicants waiting for their scheduled interviews at the U.S. Embassy.

The hassle of going through the long wait, which often means standing in line from very early in the morning for an average of three hours for the brief interview at the embassy has long been a source of frustration and complaints among Koreans.

But now things are about to change. Why? Because the U.S. and Korea recently signed an agreement to waive the visa requirement for Korean travelers who stay in the U.S. for less than 90 days.

The agreement allows South Korea into the U.S. visa waiver program. Scheduled to take effect here on Nov. 17, it is expected to dramatically cut hassles like waiting in line outside the embassy and save many potential travelers time and energy.

But the visa waiver program does not mean that anyone can visit the country anytime with no restrictions at all.

First of all, the waiver is only designed for short-term visitors. Koreans going to the United States for the purposes of business, work, study and other reasons will still have to get a visa. Also, those expecting to stay in the country for longer than 90 days will still have to get a visa.

Not only that, the visa waiver program does not apply to those whose visa applications have been rejected in the past. Also - it is important to note this - Korean travelers who entered the U.S. without a visa under the visa waiver program cannot switch their status after they arrive if they want to study or work in the United States.

Those people must leave the U.S. first and apply for a student or other visa in line with their status and then re-enter the U.S. with the appropriate documents.

If the travelers who enter the U.S. under the visa waiver program are caught studying, working or involved in activities that are not in line with their travel status, they will be immediately deported and may have difficulty entering the U.S. in the future.

Do all of these warnings sound scary? Don’t worry. The visa waiver program will allow most people to visit the U.S. with far less hassle than before, as long as they keep to the rules specified under the program.

Here’s a tip on how to benefit from the visa waiver program.

First of all, you need to get an electronic passport, which contains a small microchip with your personal information, like your name, age, place of residence, etc. You can apply for an electronic passport by visiting any provincial or county office. The cost of a new passport with a 10-year expiration date is 55,000 won ($42.63).

Once you have obtained an electronic passport, it is time to get approval to visit the U.S. All you have to do is notify the U.S. authorities in advance of your planned visit through the U.S. government’s Web site (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta).

On the Web site, you have to type in 11 pieces of personal information like your name, age, gender, place of birth, phone number and passport number. The information will be reviewed and you will be notified of the result within 72 hours. Once you get a green light, it is good for the next two years.

Of course this does not mean that all people who go through this process will receive permission to enter the U.S.; for instance, those with a serious criminal history may be rejected.

Those who have been convicted of rape, robbery, murder, arson or other serious offenses will still be banned from entering the country. To facilitate the process, Korea’s Justice Ministry is expected to inform U.S. officials if any prospective traveler has a serious criminal record.

But don’t worry about whether details of your personal legal history will be revealed to the U.S.

Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the applicants’ criminal record will not be disclosed beyond affirming that a serious record exists.

The U.S. government can still ask for more details about the prospective travelers’ criminal record, but there is no binding requirement for the Korean government to provide it. Also, the same rule applies to U.S. citizens hoping to visit Korea, meaning those in the U.S. who were convicted of such serious crimes will also be banned from setting foot in Korea.



Long lines of people who want to travel to the United States wait outside the U.S. Embassy in Seoul for their visa interview. As soon as the visa waiver program begins here, the number of people who have to wait will fall. A new electronic passport (see inset) is needed for the visa waiver program. [JoongAng Ilbo]


By Jung Ha-won Staff Reporter [hawon@joongang.co.kr]





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