SEOUL: South Korea is implementing for the first time an electronic travel authorisation (ETA) system for overseas visitors from September, as the COVID-19 pandemic forces open the way for a policy previously opposed by the country's tourism industry.
The justice ministry said the system will be a long-term way to pre-emptively head off any contagious disease as well as limit the number of undocumented immigrants, which had risen in the years before the pandemic.
Most visa waivers were suspended as the pandemic worsened in April 2020.
When border controls ease, the ETA system will be in place to help prevent the entry of infectious disease to the country by requiring travellers to share their previous two weeks of travel history, Justice Minister Park Beom-kye told Reuters in an interview.
It will also enable a prompt entry ban on a certain country if and when a contagious outbreak occurs, Park said.
"As the procedure allows foreigners wishing to enter South Korea to acquire travel permit electronically in advance, it will serve as an efficient method that can effectively prevent COVID-19 pandemic or other variants and in times when a new type of infectious disease emerges," Park said.
A pilot programme has been in place since May, and the full system will be implemented on Sep 1. South Korea will be the fifth country to adopt an ETA, an automated system used to identify in advance the eligibility of visitors to enter the country without a visa, Park said.
The system will help sharply cut customs and processing times for travellers and make it a lot more convenient, he added. Before travelling, visitors will need to fill out an online application and pay a 10,000 won (US$8.64) fee. An ETA will be valid for two years with multiple entries.
The implementation of ETA also comes amid a spike in the number of undocumented immigrants from countries with visa waivers that jumped to 207,000 in 2019 from 82,000 in 2016, according to the ministry data.
Under the current visa waiver programme, 112 nations were originally eligible for the ETA.
The ETA will initially start with visitors from 49 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Spain.