Last year, 14,714 individuals (Koreans + non-Koreans) were, at one point, forbidden from freely leaving South Korea. In Korea, Article 14 of the Constitution (헌법) guarantees the right of travel: “All citizens shall enjoy freedom of residence and the right to move at will.” But there is no such thing as an “absolute” constitutional right. Rights can be curtailed to a degree, as needed. (This is why we have courts, judges, lawyers, etc.)
According to the Korean Immigration Act (출입국관리법), below are the reasons a person (Korean or non-Korean) may be forbidden from leaving South Korea:
Article 4 (Prohibition of Departure)
(1) The Minister of Justice may prohibit a national from departing from the Republic of Korea for a prescribed period not exceeding six months if the national is:
1. A person pending in a criminal trial;
2. A person whose imprisonment with or without labor has not completed;
3. A person who fails to pay a fine or surcharge of at least the amount prescribed by Presidential Decree;
4. A person who fails to pay national taxes, customs or local taxes of at least the amount prescribed by Presidential Decree by the deadline for payment without good cause;
5. A person equivalent to those subparagraphs 1 through 4, whose departure is determined inappropriate by Ordinance of the Ministry of Justice, as he/she is likely to harm the national interest, public security or economic order of the Republic of Korea.
(2) The Minister of Justice may prohibit a person from departing from the Republic of Korea for a prescribed period not exceeding one month, if his/her departure from the Republic of Korea is deemed inappropriate for criminal investigations: Provided, That any of the following persons shall be prohibited from departing from the Republic of Korea for the period prescribed in each subparagraph:
1. A person in respect whom it has been determined to stay prosecution due to his/her unknown whereabouts, or a person in whose case it is impracticable to proceed with investigations due to special reasons, such as flight: Within three months;
2. A person in respect whom it has been determined to stay prosecution and an arrest warrant or bench warrant has been issued: Within the period of validity of the warrant.
(3) The head of a central administrative agency or the head of a relevant agency determined by the Minister of Justice may request the Minister of Justice to prohibit a national’s departure from the Republic of Korea, when he/she deems that the national falls under any subparagraph of paragraph (1) or (2) in connection with the affairs under his/her jurisdiction.
(4) In conducting a departure inspection, no immigration control official shall permit any person whose departure is prohibited under paragraph (1) or (2), to depart from the Republic of Korea.
(5) Except as otherwise expressly provided for in paragraphs (1) through (4), matters necessary in relation to the period of and procedures for prohibition of departure shall be prescribed by Presidential Decree.
Article 4-2 (Extensions of Period of Prohibition of Departure)
(1) The Minister of Justice may extend the period of prohibition of departure, when deemed necessary to continue to prohibit departure.
(2) The head of an agency who has requested prohibition of departure under Article 4 (3) shall request an extension of the period of prohibition of departure to the Minster of Justice by no later than three days prior to the expiration of such period if it is necessary to continue to prohibit departure in excess of the initial period of prohibition.
(3) Except as otherwise expressly provided for in paragraphs (1) and (2), matters necessary in relation to procedures for extending the period of prohibition of departure shall be prescribed by Presidential Decree.
Article 29 (Suspension of Aliens’ Departure)
(1) The Minister of Justice may suspend the departure of an alien falling under any subparagraph of Article 4 (1) or (2).
(2) Article 4 (3) through (5) and Articles 4-2 through 4-5 shall apply mutatis mutandis to paragraph (1).
As you can read above, Article 29 enables Articles 4 and 4-2 to apply to non-Koreans (i.e., foreign nationals) as well. Article 4-2(1) is important too (i.e., text in red).
FYI: Right now, so called “emergency travel bans” apply only to Koreans. An “emergency travel ban” is a fast-track ban where – for certain serious crimes – the investigating authority can ask immigration to execute a ban right away (and seek approval from the Minister afterwards). But as you may have read, “emergency travel bans” will soon (likely) apply to non-Koreans as well.
Thanks for reading!