By Ines Min
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.
"The intense crackdown was to start from November, but it's been very terrible since September," the scholar said.
KIS spokesman Ahn Kyu-suk neither denied nor confirmed these allegations in an e-mail interview with The Korea Times, but simply cited the legal procedures.
Ahn said the Immigration Law dictates that "if foreigners residing here always carry a copy of their passport and alien registration card, the concerned shall satisfy the requirements of immigration and passport officials."
"Therefore, suspected foreigners in these circumstances must show their identification" during on-the-spot checks, the spokesman added.
"Enforcement will start in October or November," Ahn said, denying that the crackdown has begun without public notice.
This year the office will join with regional police forces and other related agencies to help find as many illegal immigrants as possible, he said.
"The system doesn't work properly and foreign workers are suffering," the anonymous scholar said.
She added that the illegal foreigners are given no time before being sent back to their native countries, which was refuted by the spokesman.
"To actually investigate violation of law, the signature of the person is received in a written format, followed by a deportation order and then deportation," Ahn said. "It can take anywhere from two to three days, to one to two months."
This excludes the case of an Iranian national known locally as Peter Talebi, who it is claimed was deported from South Korea in July with no time to gather his belongings.
The scholar, however, said that the government was also lacking in efforts to enforce the rule equally to foreigners and give aid where needed.
The problem lies in that the system is broken and immigrants are often left with nowhere to turn, the scholar said.
Under the Lee Myung-bak administration, crackdowns on illegal aliens has intensified. Under the previous liberal administrations, foreigners overstaying their visas were allowed to live here as long as they didn't violate laws, the scholar said.
"They want to control foreigners in Korea," she said. "Natives have more rights, while foreigners have fewer rights because they are foreigners."
The KIS said the number of illegal immigrants in South Korea was 185,000.