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Hundreds of undocumented migrants leaving South Korea

Hundreds of undocumented migrants leaving South Korea
Foreigners staying illegally in South Korea wait to report their voluntary departure at an immigration office at Incheon International Airport in South Korea. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE

March 13 (UPI) -- More undocumented migrants in South Korea are voluntarily reporting themselves to authorities amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country, with 416 people self-reporting on Wednesday and Thursday, according to Seoul.

South Korea's justice ministry said Friday its "online voluntary reporting system" has been created with the objective of providing leniency for illegal or undocumented immigrants as they choose to exit the country, local news service Newsis reported.

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The system is also part of the ministry's goal of "minimizing contact with confirmed [COVID-19] patients."

Voluntary reporting for undocumented individuals in South Korea enables them to cut out some of the paperwork that is required under regular circumstances, according to the justice ministry.

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People who come forward can skip a visit to Seoul's immigration agency. Reporting must take place at least three days before departure. Self-reporting individuals will only need to undergo one "master screening" at the airport, and be allowed to return without being charged with violations, if they are found to have not committed crimes, the report says.

Undocumented foreigners in South Korea are being encouraged to self-report by June 30 in order to stay exempt from penalties. Stringent measures will be applied to people who do not voluntarily turn themselves in before June 30, Seoul says.

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South Korea had been working on the policy well before the coronavirus outbreak in the country. Cases surpassed 7,900 on Friday. People who self-report will be allowed to reapply for a short-term visitor visa, a C-3, after three to six months. The C-3 visa is not valid for employment.

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The voluntary reporting system also provides exemptions for foreigners who have overstayed their visas in other ways. Starting Feb. 1, South Korea began to fine undocumented people even if they chose to leave, and by March 1, they had forfeited the right to return to the country on another visa.

In early March, more than 5,000 undocumented Thai nationals opted to leave South Korea as COVID-19 cases spiked in the country, according to Yonhap.

There were more than 360,000 undocumented foreign nationals in South Korea, Seoul's 2019 data show. Most of the population are from Thailand, China, Vietnam, Mongolia, Philippines, Kazakhstan, or Russia.

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