Chinese living and working illegally on Jeju Island are leaving in droves, the Jeju Immigration Office said, after Beijing choked off the flow of its outgoing tourists.
“From March 1 to April 10, 1,386 Chinese who were staying illegally on Jeju Island left the country,” the office said.
That was nearly 10 times higher than the 149 Chinese who left Jeju Island after overstaying their visas in the same period last year.
Many of the overstayers traveled to Jeju as tourists and decided to stay to work as tour guides or in restaurants that cater to Chinese tourists. Jeju Island has been welcoming Chinese tourists visa-free since 2002.
Chinese accounted for 85 percent of the tourists on Jeju at the end of last year. According to the local government, some 3 million Chinese tourists visited the island last year, an average of some 2,000 per day.
But after Seoul agreed with Washington to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile system last June, the Chinese government has discouraged its citizens from traveling to Korea. On March 15 it slapped a total ban on Chinese tour groups going to Korea. According to Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong on Monday, the number of Chinese tourists to Jeju Island dropped 82 percent since the travel ban.
According to the Jeju Immigration Office, some 8,000 Chinese are still working illegally in tourism agencies or on construction sites on the island.
“We think that the voluntary exits by Chinese immigrants will continue for a while now that the drop in number of Chinese tourists has led to a drop in jobs available to them,” said an official of the immigration office. “Also, illegal overstayers who leave voluntarily can return in the future.”
People who overstayed for less than three years are granted re-entry to Korea if they leave voluntarily. Normally, overstayers would be barred from re-entering the country after they left.
Authorities think that exodus of illegal Chinese will lead to a drop in the number of crimes on the island. Last summer, nearly 70 percent of the crimes committed by foreigners on Jeju Island were by Chinese tourists, according to the Jeju Provincial Police Agency.
The Jeju District Prosecutors’ Office tracked down 196 overstayers this month, arresting 17 of them.
“The illegal Chinese have been big contributors to accidents and crimes on the streets after dark in Jeju City,” said Choi Eun-ha, professor of police administration at Jeju International University. “I think their mass exodus from the country will help increase the general safety of the city.”
Meanwhile, the visa-free policy will be offered to tourists from Southeast Asian countries who travel to Jeju Island, the governor of Jeju announced on Monday, from next September.
BY CHOI CHOONG-IL [firstname.lastname@example.org]