The government will ease visa regulations and work permits for foreigners to lure more skilled workers to Korea. The measures will be implemented in the second half of this year.
So far visas were only granted to the skilled workers themselves, their spouse and children, but now the parents of the couple can also get them.
The scope of employment options available to foreign students who study science and engineering here will be significantly expanded. Currently they often do odd jobs as bit-part actors on TV shows, English teachers or translators, but under the plan they can go into any profession except manual labor.
The government will also lift restrictions on qualified English teachers from countries where English is not the first language but is widely spoken, like the Philippines or Malaysia, because they are often better educated and work harder than native-speaking "cowboys."
Skilled workers will no longer need to file new paperwork when they return to Korea but can simply refer to the documents they submitted when they first came here. A new service center at Incheon International Airport will handle skilled-worker visas so they can be processed on arrival rather than at embassies in their country.
The reason for the measures is a looming shortage of skilled workers due to a persistently low birthrate and aging population.
The number of resident foreigners mushroomed from 1.4 million in 2014 to 2.05 million last year, but a paltry 2.3 percent or 48,000 are skilled workers, and most of those are English teachers or chefs.
The government also wants to persuade more foreign students who study humanities to switch to science and engineering instead so they can prop up that vital sector here once they graduate.