Illegal Foreigners Flee as Coronavirus Epidemic Spreads

  • By Oh Jae-yong

    March 05, 2020 13:25

    Among the many foreigners fleeing Korea because of the coronavirus epidemic are hundreds of illegal workers, mostly from China.

    According to immigration authorities, the number of illegal foreign residents seeking to leave the southern resort island of Jeju has tripled since Feb. 23, when the government raised a red alert for the virus.

    On Feb. 23-24, 148 illegal aliens volunteered to leave Korea, which is five times more than the average number over the previous 75 days.

    Jeju immigration officials estimate there are around 10,000 illegal aliens on the island alone. The Justice Ministry has been waiving penalties and future entry bans for illegal aliens who volunteer to leave since January as part of efforts to stem the spread of the virus. But only one Chinese airline now offers flights back from Jeju, resulting in a long line of illegals waiting to go back home.

    Illegal Chinese residents wait to apply for voluntary departure at an immigration office on Jeju Island on Tuesday. /Newsis

    A total of 230 illegal Chinese residents applied to leave from Feb. 1-25. But 175 are stranded. One 41-year-old woman said, "Coronavirus is spreading so quickly in Korea that I decided to go home because my family are getting worried. Direct flights from Jeju to China resumed recently so I got in line at 5 a.m. to buy a ticket, but others came here at 2 a.m."

    According to immigration laws, illegal aliens who voluntarily opt to leave are given a month to do so without facing any penalties. The number of foreigners arriving on the island plummeted 89.5 percent from Feb. 23 until this Monday to 2,709 people, with Chinese arrivals down 97.5 percent to just 222. 

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