Sat, October 21, 2017 | 04:52
Posted : 2017-09-27 16:56
Updated : 2017-09-28 14:51

China's 'absurd' visa rule baffles foreign visitors

Tighter regulation seen part of THAAD retaliatory steps

By Yi Whan-woo

Mr. Varkevisser, a Dutch businessman who frequently visits Asian countries, applied for a Chinese visa while staying in Seoul in mid-September. But his visa request was unexpectedly rejected.

The Chinese Embassy in Seoul explained the country has changed its visa rule for foreigners who want to visit China via South Korea.

The new rule requires any foreigners applying for a Chinese visa in Seoul, regardless of the purpose of their visit or the number of allowable entries, to have an alien registration card issued by the Korean Immigration Service (KIS).

However, Varkevisser was not aware of the rule change like most other foreign visitors who want to use Korea as a stopover for a visit to China.

For Varkevisser and other foreigners who are not long-term residents here, the rule is "absurd" because they are not entitled to the alien registration card, which is only for long-term residents.

According to the KIS, only those who are staying in Korea for more than 90 days and hold appropriate visas can apply for the card.

This suggests the best way for the people like Varkevisser to get a Chinese visa is to apply for it in their home country before leaving for Korea. Varkevisser claimed that he was not informed of the new visa policy in advance until his request was denied.

"It is no longer possible for foreigners in Korea without an alien registration card to apply for a Chinese tourism or business visit single entry, double entry or multi-entry visa," Varkevisser told The Korea Times last week.

"I already had booked the flights for $800 for this week and now I can't visit China with my business partner.

"There are many people who come and spend one week in China, another in Korea and some days in Japan. And the new policy causes more inconvenience for tourists who come to China, Japan and Korea on holiday," he added.

He said the Chinese Visa Application Service Center at Seoul Square building in Jung-gu, referred to a "system upgrade" as the reason for refusing to issue him a visa, but refused to give any details. "The real reason was not given," he said.

A staff member at the Chinese Embassy in Seoul admitted that the new policy took effect in mid-September.

However, the staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, refused to explain anything further, citing embassy regulations.

Varkevisser claimed he was not the only person to be inconvenienced by the new rule.

"When I was at the visa center, there were many people of different nationalities in the line who could not get it," he said.

There were even cases of people who are allowed the alien registration card being denied a visa.

Two international students from Switzerland and Sweden planned to travel to China but were refused a visa because their cards had not been issued yet, according to Seoul Global Center.

Operated by the Seoul city government, it receives complaints from expatriates and helps them find solutions.

Change amid THAAD dispute

The change in visa policy comes amid China's economic retaliation against Korea over the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery here.

Although Beijing has denied it, China is suspected of enforcing new visa rules on Koreans since 2016 when Seoul and the U.S. jointly agreed on the THAAD deployment.

Additionally, on Aug. 23, the Chinese Embassy in Seoul decided to no longer accept individual applications for visas for various purposes, including travel, business, study and work from Sept. 1.

"Instead, citizens of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and other foreigners in the ROK have to apply for a Chinese visa through travel agencies designated by the Consular Section of the Chinese Embassy, it said on its website.

Varkevisser speculated that the THAAD deployment may be linked to the new visa rule.

"I'm not sure, but of course it's possible," he said.

An expert remained cautious, pointing out that the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines recently imposed the same policy.

"Targeting foreigners in Korea over THAAD would mean China picking a fight against the rest of the world," said Shin In-kyun, president of the Korea Defense Network. "It would be too risky to relate THAAD with the enhanced visa rules on foreigners."

Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy in Korea has not sufficiently notified anybody about the new visa rules, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Netherlands Embassy in Korea were unaware of it until contacted by The Korea Times.

"We've not been updated about such a policy and also why it was introduced," a ministry official said, asking not to be named. "But even if we knew about the background regarding the policy, we would not be able to comment on it because we don't want to appear to be intervening in another country's affairs."

A staff member at the Netherlands Embassy said it had not received any complaints from its citizens resident in Korea.

관련 한글 기사

중국, 주한 외국인 비자 발급 요건 강화

사드 보복과 연관 여부 관심...구체적인 이유는 전해지지 않아

네덜란드 사업가 안드레아스 씨는 최근 한국에 들러 중국 비자를 받으려다 당황스런 경험을 했다.

한국 내 장기체류자만 발급대상인 외국인 등록증이 없다는 이유로 주한 중국대사관이 비자 발급 거부를 한 것이다.

안드레아스 씨는 “800달러나 주고 이미 비행기 티켓을 샀는데 발급을 거부당했다”며 환불 받을 수 있는 방법을 찾아봐야겠다고 푸념했다.

안드레아스 씨를 비롯해 여행 또는 사업차 잠깐 한국에 들렀다 중국에 가려고 계획했던 외국인들이 비자 발급을 거부당하는 사례가 늘고 있다.

주한 중국대사관이 9월 중순부터 국내 체류 외국인들이 한국에서 비자 발급 신청 시 출입국외국인정책본부에서 발행한 외국인등록증 없이는 발급을 금지하는 새 규정을 적용했기 때문이다.

장기체류자가 아닐 경우 자국에서 중국 비자를 미리 발급받아야만 차질 없이 한국에서 중국으로 입국을 할 수 있게 된 것이다.

하지만 기존 발급 방식에 익숙한 상당수 단기체류 외국인들은 이 같은 사실을 모르고 있는 것으로 전해졌다.

아울러 외국인 등록증 발급 대상이더라도 분실 등으로 임시 등록증 제출 시 비자 발급 거부 사유가 되는 문제도 드러났다.

주한 중국대사관은 신규 비자 규정 적용 사실에 대해 인정하면서도 도입 배경에 대해서는 설명하기를 거부했다.

외교부와 주한 네덜란드 대사관 관계자는 변경 중국 비자 규정에 대해 알지 못하고 있었다고 밝혔다.

일각에서는 한국을 겨냥한 중국의 사다 보복 일환일 수도 있지 않겠냐는 주장도 흘러나왔다.