(ATTN: ADDS more info about affected countries in paras 5-7)
By Kim Seung-yeon
SEOUL, April 9 (Yonhap) -- The government will suspend visa-free entry and visa waiver programs for 90 countries imposing entry bans on South Koreans from Monday next week as part of efforts to curb the coronavirus inflow from overseas, officials said Thursday.
Along with the planned suspension of visa exemptions, all 90-day visas that were issued before April 5 of this year have become invalid, according to the joint press release by the foreign and justice ministries.
The toughened visa restrictions come as South Korea has seen an increasing number of coronavirus infection cases from abroad, which has emerged as a key factor behind the continuing virus outbreak. Of the total 10,423 infection cases reported as of Thursday, 861 cases had come from overseas.
The recent rise in imported cases has weighed on the country's quarantine capacity already exhausted by virtually endless demand to check all international arrivals after the government toughened quarantine steps early this month.
On a daily average, foreign nationals with short-term visas accounted for about 30 percent of some 1,500 international passengers arriving in Korea since early this month.
The bulk of the 90 countries facing the suspension of visa exemptions comes from Europe and the Americas, including Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada. Eighteen countries in the Asia Pacific, such as Singapore, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, will be affected. Nine Middle Eastern countries and six others in Africa are also on the list.
Only a handful of countries, including the United States, Britain, Ireland and Mexico, will be excluded from the measure as they are still allowing South Koreans to enter. China is not subject to the measure as there is no visa-free agreement or program in place between Seoul and Beijing.
Foreigners who hold such short-term visas must reapply for a new one. Exceptions apply in some cases, such as for diplomats, flight attendants and C-4 visa holders, who are sponsored by local firms for their highly specialized skills.
Foreigners who have already entered South Korea and been staying here will also be excluded. They are permitted to stay until their existing visas expire.
The government said it will also toughen the review process for all new visa applications. Foreigners will be required to submit a health certificate detailing whether the applicant shows any symptoms related to the virus.
A total of 151 countries and territories currently impose a blanket or partial ban on entry from South Korea. Of them, Korea has forged visa waiver agreements with 66 countries and has allowed visa-free entry from 47 other nations, according to the government.
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