The Seoul government said Sunday that it would ease visa rules for visitors from China, Southeast Asian countries and foreign patients, as part of efforts to promote the local tourism industry and offer convenience to travellers from neighbouring nations.

Starting next month, the Justice Ministry will expand the issuance of multiple visas for Chinese nationals to their spouses and children. Seoul will also issue multiple-entry visas to Chinese nationals who have memberships in condominiums in Korea worth 30 million won (US$27,000) or higher and family register holders in Beijing and Shanghai. Students from 112 colleges designated by the Chinese government are also included on the list.

The new visa measure was announced a month after a presidential meeting on promoting tourism in July.

For tourists from Southeast Asian countries, a one-year visa will be issued for those who have visited Korea once, and three-year visa for who visited more than twice.

Only three-year multiple visas have been given to Southeast Asian tourists who visited the country more than four times in two years so far.

Those who are issued the three-year multiple visa will also be eligible for five-year multiple visas, which were not given out before.

The ministry will also expand the issuance of online visas from professional research resources to foreign patients visiting government-designated hospitals.

Foreign patients who plan to stay at government-designated hospitals for treatment will be allowed to apply online for visas, without visiting the South Korean embassies in their countries.

Meanwhile, the ministry said it would toughen the immigration screening for cruise passengers, after several cases of Chinese smuggling.

Foreign tourists on cruises via cruise have been allowed three days on land for sightseeing without particular immigration screening.

Concerns about smuggling have been raised as some Chinese smugglers entered the country as tourists.

The Ministry of Justice will mainly be screening the violators of Immigration Control Law or tourists whose entry permits were previously rejected.

The ministry is also planning to enhance the administrative accountability of travel agencies when foreign tourists randomly leave the tour group while sightseeing.

(c)2013 the Asia News Network (Hamburg, Germany). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Photo Credit: Soldiers participate in an historical reenactment of a royal procession during the Hwaseong Fortress in South Korea. USAG- Humphreys / Flickr