What is the change? South Korea’s immigration authorities have issued a guidance that clarifies and narrows the scope of permissible business activities that visa-waived nationals can perform on a visa waiver and that visa-required nationals can perform on a C-3-4 business visa.

What does the change mean? As a result of the narrower definition, both visa-waived nationals and visa-required nationals will need to apply for a C-4 short-term employment visa for trips involving any for-profit activities, even if they remain on foreign payroll and are visiting for 90 days or less. The list of permissible activities under the visa waiver and C-3-4 visa now excludes installation, repair, maintenance, quality control and related activities.

  • Implementation time frame: Immediate.
  • Visas/permits affected: Visa waiver; C-3-4 business visas; C-4 short-term employment visas.
  • Who is affected: Visa-waived nationals and visa-required nationals conducting for-profit activities in Korea, even for a period not exceeding 90 days.
  • Impact on processing times: Business travelers who plan to conduct for-profit activities will need to apply for a C-4 visa at a Korean consulate.
  • Business impact: Visa-waived nationals, including U.S. and Japanese nationals, should no longer rely on the waiver for business trips involving any for-profit activities, including installation, repair, maintenance and quality control at client sites, and should factor in the time it takes to apply for a C-4 visa at a consulate before traveling. Similarly, visa-required nationals should no longer rely on the C-3-4 business visa for such for-profit activities and will also need to apply for a C-4 visa instead. Also, visa-waived or visa-required nationals who are working full-time doing productive work (beyond the scope of simple consultations and meetings) at a Korean subsidiary or branch of one’s company during a short-term period of up to 90 days may also be deemed to be conducting for-profit activities that require the C-4 visa.
  • Next steps: Foreign nationals may need to consult their BAL professional to assess which visa is appropriate for individual circumstances.

Background: In the past, the interpretation of permissible business activities has caused confusion and Korean consulates have been inconsistent. Though the new guidance, issued on March 20, clarifies the policy, it significantly narrows the definition of business activities allowed on a visa waiver or C-3-4 business visa.

To apply for a C-4 visa, foreign nationals will need to present, among other things, a copy of the contract supporting the need for the service to be performed in Korea and/or an assignment letter ordering the assignee to travel to Korea.

BAL Analysis: The policy of defining installation, repair, maintenance, quality control and similar activities as “for-profit” activities appropriate only under the C-4 short-term employment visa will have a particular impact on companies in the energy, oil and gas, engineering and construction, manufacturing and machine, shipbuilding and other industries that have traditionally relied on the visa waiver or C-3-4 visas for those activities. Additionally, applicants should anticipate that there may be some confusion at Korean consulates as they transition toward adopting this new policy.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group and our network provider located in South Korea. For additional information, please contact your BAL attorney.

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