At Incheon airport, major delays worsenWith the high volume of foreigners passing through Incheon International Airport, there is growing frustration concerning the time it takes to pass through immigration, which can sometimes be as long as two hours.
And more Chinese visitors are getting disillusioned with the tedious process.
On Friday afternoon, a long line of foreigners could be seen at Incheon Airport’s immigration desks on the second floor.
“It seems like I’ve waited about an hour but the line isn’t shrinking,” said one Chinese visitor standing in line. “This is my first visit to Korea, but regretfully the fantasy I had about the country from watching dramas is about to break.”
Another Chinese visitor, who works for a finance company in Singapore, said, “On April 4, I departed from Singapore two hours earlier than my Korean colleague, but he was able to pass through immigration [at Incheon airport] ahead of me.”
He added, “In Singapore, the line does not extend to over 10 meters at the immigration checkpoint, but Incheon International Airport is a bit extreme.”
A visitor from the U.S. likewise related, “I’ve visited Korea at least twice a year since 2010, but starting this year, it is taking much longer to enter into the country.”
In March, 2.23 million people passed through Incheon airport, compared to 2.05 million during the same period in 2015.
A large reason behind these delays has to do with several cases of illegal immigrants attempting to break into the country earlier this year.
In January a Chinese couple was arrested after sneaking into the country through Incheon airport. That same month, a Vietnamese man illegally entered Korea through Incheon airport by pretending to be a transfer passenger heading to Japan.
An official at the airport’s Immigration Office said, “Before the cases of illegal immigrants breaking into the country, it took around 60 seconds to inspect a foreigner, but after bolstering the inspection process, it takes over 65 seconds. Because each inspection takes longer, the overall time it takes to go through immigration has increased.”
In contrast, it takes 18 seconds to inspect Korean citizens, compared to 15 seconds before. But since the inspection process still remains simple, it has not made the wait much longer.
A 46-year-old man surnamed Kim, who works for a Hong Kong-based financial consulting firm, said, “I’m not sure why immigration booths remain shut when the number of foreigners is overflowing.”
However, according to the Immigration Office, the extra booths have to remain shut because of the lack of personnel needed to run them.
According to the Immigration Office, there is a shortage of immigration officials, with just 668 personnel in 2015, up just 10 percent from 589 in 2001, when the Incheon airport first opened.
In contrast, the total number of people arriving and departing through the airport increased by 180 percent, from 17.59 million people in 2001 to 44.88 million people last year.
The immigration official added, “We work overtime hours and are not able to eat our meals regularly, yet we are always short of hand.”
Kim Byung-hun, a professor with the Korea Tourism College, said, “Because it can easily be known in advance how many foreigners will arrive and at what time, there is a need to open up immigration booths more flexibly to reflect the number of foreigners entering the country. Another idea is to run booths where both Koreans and foreigners can be inspected.”
There are also suggestions to follow the example of the Japanese government, which recently proposed a multifaceted policy to decrease the time it takes for foreigners to pass through immigration to under 20 minutes.
Taking into account that long immigration desk delays can have a negative impact on visitors’ view of the country, the government proposed to increase the number of immigration officials from 2,471 to 2,618 and to add 73 immigration booths to its seven airports. They are also planning to enable mobile equipment that can take foreigners’ fingerprints and photographs to cut down on waiting time.
BY HAM JONG-SUN, SARAH KIM [email@example.com]