SEOUL, Aug. 15 (Korea Bizwire) – Although the employment permit scheme for foreign workers has marked its 10th anniversary, it is still under debate between the government and human rights advocacy groups.
The government said the system has worked well for improving the management of foreign workers, while the advocacy groups criticized that the system has rather caused reverse discrimination.
Introduced in August 2004, the scheme allows people from 15 countries to work in Korea. Migrant workers under the system with an E-9 visa can stay for up to three years.
According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor, as of April 2014, the number of foreign workers authorized to work in Korea was 450,134, up from 3,167 in 2004. That is why the government said the system became an effective tool for managing migrant workers.
The government also explained that the system has helped solve the problems such as stay over and above the authorized time period. It can be seen from the fact that, as of February 2014, the rate of unauthorized stay fell to 16.3 percent, down from 80 percent before 2004.
Businesses share the view of the government. Since the scheme’s introduction, the right of foreign workers has improved, and the cost in the process of deporting workers has decreased.
However, the human rights activists have condemned the system as it prevents foreign workers from moving to another workplace and exploits them at work. There are indeed a lot of instances in which employers abuse the system by refusing to pay or not giving severance pay to retiring workers.
The government announced that, as of June 2014, the number of illegal foreign workers under the system was 38,435, which is almost 20 percent of a total of 185,838 unauthorized workers.
Besides, problems such as poor working and living conditions of migrant workers in the agriculture and livestock industries, troubles caused by ethnic Koreans from China, or issues concerning the expulsion of undocumented workers are still giving headaches to the Korean government.
Experts suggest that the government devise a system to decide how many foreign workers it needs based on accumulated data and come up with measures to balance the condition of domestic workers and foreign employees.
“The government is required to carry out an in-depth study on the labor market,” Lee Kyu-yong, a researcher in the Korea Labor Institute said. “In the process of study, many things such as the number of necessary foreign workers depending on the region or the requirements employers have to fulfill before hiring foreigners should seriously be considered,” he added.
By Veronica Huh (firstname.lastname@example.org)