By Lee Tae-hoon
The Cabinet approved a revision bill Tuesday that would make it mandatory for foreigners entering Korea to be fingerprinted and photographed from 2012.
Under the measure, all foreigners over the age of 17, excluding diplomats and those traveling on official duty, must have their fingerprints scanned and be photographed upon entry.
Currently, Koreans are required to register their fingerprint information and photos at the age of 17.
The bill will be put to a vote this month at the National Assembly and, if approved, will take effect from the second half of 2012, said Ahn Kyu-suk, spokesman of the Immigration Service.
Those who enter the country before the measure comes into force will be obliged to visit one of the 37 immigration offices nationwide to register their fingerprint and facial data.
The bill was drawn up last April in response to a growing number of crimes committed by foreign nationals and difficulties in identifying forged passports.
The number of overstays increased from 209,841 in 2004 to 223,464 in 2007, and that of crimes committed by foreigners soared from 9,103 to 14,524 during the same period, according to the National Police Agency
More than 2,000 foreigners, who have been deported or refused entry, have attempted to come back to Korea with a forged passport or under a different name, according to the Ministry of Justice.
"Collecting biometric information will not only deter crimes committed by foreigners but also reduce the number of people coming here with fraudulent documents," Ahn said. "Unlike names and dates of birth, which can be changed, biometric data are unique and almost impossible to forge."
Ahn said the new system will help protect the identity of foreigners if they lose their passports.
The spokesman also refuted the claim that the biometric verification system would discourage tourists from coming to Korea.
"When Japan introduced a biometric immigration control system, many people expected the number of tourists to drop sharply," Ahn said. "But the number of tourists has increased since its introduction."
Japan adopted the new immigrant management system in November 2007, which is similar to the system introduced in the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
Ahn said the government will discuss the sharing of a database on terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in November.