MANILA, Philippines—The Bureau of Immigration (BI) Sunday said more and more South Korean youngsters were getting special study permits (SSPs) so they can take English lessons while in the Philippines.

The agency said it recorded 1,480 SSPs issued in the first three weeks of the month, which is higher than the 1,460 SSPs issued in the entire last quarter of 2010.

BI officer in charge Ronaldo Ledesma, in a statement, said the “dramatic” increase came as a result of the crackdown against illegally staying Korean minors in the country. Authorities discovered scores of Korean youths studying in the Philippines without valid permits.

Ledesma said the increase in the number of SSP transactions also translated to higher revenues for the bureau, reaching P7.02 million from Jan. 1 to 21 this year compared to the bureau’s SSP collection of P6.94 million from October to December 2010.

“This is the most solid evidence yet that the reforms we have initiated in the BI are starting to pay off. This will go a long way in sustaining the bureau’s income generating efforts that will ultimately benefit the nation’s coffers,” Ledesma said.

The BI charges P4,740 for each SSP, issued mostly to South Korean minors enrolled in hundreds of English language learning centers all over the country.

The SSP levy is on top of the regular alien registration fee of P6,940 charged each foreigner who stays in the country for long periods of time.

South Korean nationals are second in the list of foreigners who stay in the country, next only to those from China.

Lawyer Faisal Hussin, chief of the BI intelligence division, confirmed that the sudden increase in the number of those securing SSPs came after the bureau started cracking down on illegally staying Koreans. The BI had received numerous reports that many of them had no study permits.

“We will continue our operations against learning centers that accommodate foreign students without study permits. They (foreign students) better follow our immigration laws or face expulsion,” he said.

Sandra Cam, owner of a government-accredited English language school in Cavite, earlier complained to the BI about South Korean students taking up courses clandestinely in a resort in Batangas. She said “underground” schools with unqualified tutors existed as far away as Davao.

Cam, in a phone interview, said South Koreans should not be afraid to continue sending their young to the Philippines to take English lessons.

“There’s no crackdown against South Korean students, only those without SSPs,” she said.

English language courses are said to cost less in the Philippines compared to neighboring countries. Foreign students can also practice speaking English as many Filipinos understand and speak the language.