중앙데일리

Brokers help job seekers apply for asylum in Korea

One was a Pakistani who applied for refugee status himself

Dec 31,2018
A number of foreigners have been arrested and convicted this year of illegally brokering deals for economic migrants to apply for asylum in Korea just to find jobs.

An asylum seeker is supposed to be a person forced to flee their country due to a well-founded fear of persecution, or from war or violence. Asylum status is not given to people merely aiming to improve their economic situations.

Korea’s refugee act allows asylum seekers to stay in the country as long as their application for asylum is ongoing, which can take two to three years counting up to two reviews by the Ministry of Justice and up to three trials by an administrative court.

Six months after submitting an application, asylum seekers gain the right to work near their temporary residence in Korea.

Abusing this system, two ethnic Chinese Koreans who ran a restaurant and a travel agency in Suwon, Gyeonggi, brokered deals for 11 Chinese citizens from March to June this year to help them falsely apply for refugee status in Korea to gain access to the job market.

They used the messenger app WeChat to advertise their service.

“Enter Jeju Island without a visa and find opportunities to reside in Seoul,” they advertised on WeChat, according to the police. Jeju adopted a visa-free program in 2002 to boost tourism to the resort island.

They helped clients apply for asylum from Jeju by instructing them to say they were followers of Falun Gong, a persecuted meditation practice in China. The two were paid 9.35 million won ($8,377) to 11.05 million won per client for drafting applications.

The brokers were caught by authorities in June when they helped one client, a Chinese citizen, forge a Korean identification card. Authorities detected the forgery when the card was used at customs at the Incheon International Airport in June.

The Jeju District Court on Dec. 14 doled out a one-year sentence to one defendant and a two-year suspended sentence to the other for violating the Immigration Act.

In another case this year, a Pakistani man in his 20s was caught brokering deals for clients from Thailand to make them submit fake asylum applications.

The man entered Korea in 2014 on a student visa. He applied for asylum in November 2015 and went through the five-step process of two reviews and three trials into January 2018, when he lost his case in the Supreme Court.

He didn’t leave Korea, however, and stayed on as an illegal immigrant, starting his broker service. He used his own experience in applying for asylum to guide his clients on what types of false narratives to tell immigration authorities.

“Tell the authorities that you are being threatened after converting to another religion,” he told some clients, according to the court. “Tell the authorities that you are being threatened by drug cartels,” he told other clients.

The man was given a two-year suspended sentence for violating the Immigration Act.

At least one case of asylum-related illegal brokering this year involved a Korean citizen. A retired official of the Ministry of Justice’s immigration bureau was sentenced to two years in prison for violating the Immigration Act in January.

Upon retirement, the man asked an acquaintance, an employee of an immigration office, to share case files on 1,109 asylum seekers in Korea that detailed their reasons for applications and the reasons for rejection by authorities.

The man analyzed the cases to identify the stories that proved successful and advertised himself as an expert in asylum applications.

From Feb. 2, 2016, to Jan. 25, 2017, the man helped 35 clients file falsified asylum applications and 30 clients draft appeal papers to the ministry or a local administrative court after their earlier applications were rejected. The asylum issue drew public attention in Korea when more than 500 Yemenis entered Jeju from January through May this year, as the civil war took a turn for the worse in late 2017 and word got out that they could reach Jeju without either a visa and find jobs.

BY KIM DA-YOUNG, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]


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