S Korea says it regrets spurning Thai visitors
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S Korea says it regrets spurning Thai visitors

The South Korean Foreign Affairs Ministry says it regrets that its immigration officials have earned a reputation for refusing entry to Thai tourists, according to the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry.

This annual meeting between the Thai permanent secretary of foreign affairs, Saran Charoensuwan, and the South Korean First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chang Ho-jin, was held as the #BanTravellingtoKorea (in Thai) trended on X (formerly known as Twitter) after many Thai netizens including influencers and singers shared their experiences of South Korea Immigration officers refusing them entry to the country.

The hashtag made the social media site's weekly top 10 after a traveller claimed she had been to South Korea four times but was rejected on her latest attempt despite having a return ticket as well as tour programme and hotel bookings.

In the post, she said the immigration officer asked her if she hadn't been to the country enough times already, and denied her entry. Her Oct 24 post has received over 9.2 million views and 22,000 reposts, and was followed by posts from other Thais who had the same experiences.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin promised to look into the issue. Mr Saran then raised concerns about Thais' souring perceptions of visiting South Korea.

Mr Chang, he said, replied that he regretted such incidents and did not want them to affect individual perceptions or the countries' diplomatic relationship.

Mr Chang, he said, explained that the stricter rules may have been enforced by some officers, but added that the country does not have any policies in place to refuse Thai visitors from gaining entry.

The South Korean Ministry also introduced some measures to discourage Thai nationals working illegally in the country.

The measures include the voluntary departure programme that allows illegal workers to present themselves to South Korean authorities before being sent back to Thailand without being blacklisted. Another measure is the Employment Permit System (EPS) quota that allows 4,800 Thai labourers to work there legally every year.

Both countries agreed to hold a consular strategic conference to work on the problem further.

Meanwhile, Labour Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn sent a notification to the Department of Tourism and the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA) to discourage agencies from enabling Thais to work illegally in South Korea.

He said the ministry estimated that about 100,000 Thai labourers worked illegally in South Korea compared with the 93,118 Thai workers who had obtained work through the government's EPS service.

The ministry acknowledged South Korea's problem with illegal workers so it had set up a special task force for screening illegal labourers at Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports, he said.

The ministry also has another task force working on suppressing ads on social media for undocumented jobs in South Korea, said Mr Phiphat.

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