No more visa waivers for 90 countries from Monday

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No more visa waivers for 90 countries from Monday

The Korean government will suspend visa waivers and visa-free entry for people from 90 countries and territories and invalidate certain short-term visas starting Monday in a move to tighten quarantine measures to prevent imported coronavirus cases.

The Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a joint statement said that short-term visas allowing visits under 90 days issued before April 5 will be invalid.

A total of 151 countries and territories as of Thursday impose some form of entry ban on Korea as many countries close borders and go into lockdown mode to fight the global pandemic.

China and Korea do not have a visa waiver agreement or visa-free program. Thursday’s move is expected to invalidate short-term visas already issued to some 1.95 million Chinese nationals, according to a Justice Ministry official, mostly tourists. Over 56 percent of 86,000 Chinese travelers who entered Korea in the month of February were holders of short-term visas.

Korea in early February barred foreign travelers coming from Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province, the original epicenter of the coronavirus, but has not imposed any other entry ban.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun forecast in a coronavirus response meeting Wednesday plans to temporarily suspend visa waivers and visa-free entry for travelers coming from countries that put entry bans on Korea. He also said the government will expand entry restrictions on foreigners traveling for nonessential reasons.

Korea’s suspension of its visa mechanisms applies to travelers from a total of 90 countries and territories: 18 in the Asia-Pacific region, 23 in the Americas, 34 in Europe, nine in the Middle East and six in Africa.

It applies to nationals of 56 countries and territories that have visa waiver agreements that allow their nationals to enter Korea without a visa for tourism or temporary visits, according to the Justice Ministry. This includes New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Peru and 29 European nations.

It also includes 34 countries and territories with visa-free entry programs such as Canada, Argentina, Australia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and South Africa. Travelers from countries with visa-free entry programs are usually permitted 30-day or 90-day visits.

However, holders of diplomatic and official passports, cabin crew and travelers with an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Travel Card, which facilitates short-term business travel within the APEC economies, are exempted.

The United States, Britain and Mexico are among the few countries not affected by these latest visa restrictions because they do not have an entry ban on travelers coming from Korea.

Foreigners already in Korea on short-term visas are permitted to stay until the expiration of their visas, and professionals with C-4 short-term visas, sponsored by Korean companies, are also exempted.

The Korean government has required all travelers coming into Korea to undergo mandatory quarantines for 14 days, the incubation period of the virus, starting April 1. Foreign visitors have to pay around 100,000 won ($82) per night to stay at a government-designated facility during this quarantine period. Seoul is starting to deport foreigners who do not cooperate with quarantine measures.

On Wednesday, there were 1,510 foreigners who entered Korea, of which 342 were holders of passports from countries with visa waiver agreements or visa-free programs, and some 100 were short-term visitors.

There has been a drastic decrease in Chinese visitors, with only around 100 so far this month.

There are a total of 880 foreign nationals undergoing mandatory 14-day quarantines at government-designated facilities as of Tuesday, according to the Foreign Ministry, and 16 foreign visitors have been turned away upon arrival or deported because of noncompliance with quarantine measures.

The Korean government said it will also toughen the review process for all new visa applications. Foreigners will be required to submit a health certificate confirmed by a medical clinic within the previous 48 hours detailing whether the applicant shows any symptoms related to the virus.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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