South Korea Alert – For-Profit Activities Not Allowed on Business Visa or Visa Waiver

In its latest Visa Issuance Guidance Manual issued on March 20, 2017 (the “Guidelines”), Korean immigration clarified, and in effect, narrowed the scope of permissible activities under the visa waiver status and C-3-4 short-term business visa, by classifying “for-profit activities” as permissible only under the C-4 short-term employment visa.

This clarified policy will particularly affect short-term business travelers handling installation, repair, maintenance, quality control and similar work in the shipbuilding, oil and gas, energy, engineering and construction, machinery, manufacturing and other sectors.

Who is affected?

The clarified policy applies to foreign business travelers going to Korea for a period of stay not exceeding 90 consecutive days.

What has changed?

Previously, there was confusion about whether for-profit activities were allowed on a C-3-4 business visa for up to 90 days, as the list of permissible activities included “market research; liaison work; consultations and meetings; contract negotiations and signing; installation, repair, inspection and acquisition of know-how of operation of machinery; and other similar activities”.

US and Japanese nationals were generally viewed as being exempt from the requirement to obtain the C-3-4 visa and able to conduct such short-term business activities (even for profit) under visa waiver status.

With respect to for-profit short-term business travel, different Korean consulates often interpreted the rules differently, and frequently issued different types of consular visas to non-US and non-Japanese visa waiver nationals (or advised them to use the visa waiver).

Currently, In the Guidelines, Korean immigration has clarified and narrowed the scope of short-term business activities permissible under visa waiver status and the C-3-4 visa for up to 90 days, to the following non-profit “Simple Business Activities”: market research; liaison work; consultations and meetings; contract negotiations and signing; small-scale trade activities; and other similar activities.

The Guidelines have clarified that “installation, repair, inspection and acquisition of know-how of operation of machinery” are to be considered for-profit activities.

Now, all business travelers, including US and Japanese nationals, going to Korea for up to 90 days to perform for-profit activities, even if paid outside of Korea, require a C-4 short-term employment visa.  Further, all business travelers can travel to Korea for up to 90 days to perform non-profit Simple Business Activities with either a C-3-4 business visa or a visa waiver, depending on their nationality.

How to obtain a C-4 short-term employment visa:

The C-4 short-term employment visa is obtained at a Korean consulate. Specific documentary requirements should be checked at the applicable consulate with jurisdiction over the applicant. However, the required documents listed in the Guidelines are:

  • Visa application;
  • Passport;
  • Passport photo;
  • Application fee;
  • Copy of the contract that serves as a basis for the assignment of the business traveler to Korea (including a clause specifying the need for performance of a service in Korea);
  • Assignment letter ordering the assignee to go on the business trip to Korea.

It is likely that some corporate documents from the visa sponsoring entity in Korea would also be required in support of the application.

Companies sending their employees on business trips to Korea for up to 90 days should ensure the assignee obtains the correct visa: C-4 for for-profit activities; C-3-4 for non-profit activities, as per the Guidelines.

Please note that this is general information only and not intended as advice on a specific matter. Please feel free to contact Fakhoury Global Immigration directly with questions exclusive to your situation. This news alert was prepared using information from Peregrine Immigration Management, which is licensed to Fakhoury Global Immigration.