Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This is South Korea, right? The free one?

The Korea Times is reporting that a lot of foreign nationals are upset about new Immigration crackdowns whereby officials may randomly go up to your foreign-looking face and demand to see your documentation:
The Korea Immigration Service's crackdown on illegal immigrants this year has been met with controversy due to allegations its officers are making random checks on those who look like foreign workers.

Members of the legally residing foreign community are also upset at the failure to stick to a legal set of procedures.

"Immigration officials make raids on the street," said a foreign scholar in Seoul who spoke on condition of anonymity.

She said three Nepalese foreigners were grabbed on their way to get a haircut recently, while a pregnant woman was taken outside of the city last week. Others are caught during routine shopping errands, she said.
Foreign nationals in South Korea are legally required to carry their ARC (alien registration card, 외국인등록증) or passport, I think, but the government has generally been quite lax about this. Nevertheless, crack down or no, it's always a good idea to know where these things are and have them with you.

But having them so you won't be inconvenienced by a KIS official (as the Immigration spokeswoman suggests) is not a proper answer to concerns that such on-the-spot checks based on appearance (Can you say, "racial profiling"?) are a potential violation of human rights (and ROK law).

[above: "Sŏryu, please!" KIS enforcers agents model the Immigration Service's new uniforms while determining whether an unidentified non-Korean man is clear to enter the local Lotteria.]


  1. Police officers in "the more polite and foreigner friendly" Japan have been doing this for years. Yeah, that doesn't make it any more "right" but I'm just adding perspective.

  2. True, that. In fact, South Korea frequently looks to the Japanese model when it comes to shared issues like this.

    As for the "more polite and foreigner-friendly Japan" meme, it does make me laugh, especially when foreigners in Korea complain about the most minor of things but foreigners in Japan seem to accept things like anti-foreigner discrimination in housing as normal. Imagine if that were widespread in Korea!

    I think the foreigners in Korea who complain about Korea and offer up Japan as an example of Korea's better are just fantasizing about the country without really knowing how xenophobia manifests itself there.

    Not that I dislike Japan. I love the place, but the housing thing is something that has given me pause about living there after I get my PhD and search for university jobs.

  3. While looking for a link to the case of a Japanese woman hauled in by the police who thought she was a foreigner and demanded to see her ID card, I ran across this story in Japan Probe about Ikebukuro police randomly checking foreigners' IDs.

  4. This is another story on discrimination in Japan, but much of it could easily describe South Korea as well.

  5. Ah, here's the story of the 28-year-old woman in Saitama Prefecture's Kawaguchi who was arrested for not showing ID when it was determined she looked Asian (i.e., not Japanese) and was holding an envelope with Portuguese writing.

  6. Here's another link detailing the "no foreigners" discrimination in Japanese housing. It includes a screen grab of an apartment rental site showing how this works.

  7. I experienced firsthand discrimination in lodging when a Japanese inn owner shook his head when I asked for a room in Japanese. I pointed to and read the Kanji sign indicating vacancies. He shook his head again without even speaking to me.

    Chinese hotels used to have separate rates posted for foreigners, overseas Chinese, and mainland Chinese. Guess who was charged the most and who was charged the least? The rationale was that foreign visitors had more money, but that doesn't explain why ethnic Chinese paid less than other foreign nationals. Back in the mid-90s, Chinese hotels were still segregating foreign and domestic guests by floor or section of the hotel.


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