August 04, 2011 11:56
Washington Post reporter Jose Vargas broke the story on the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 and won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage. Vargas revealed earlier this year that he is an illegal alien residing in the U.S. He left his home in the Philippines 18 years ago and entered the U.S. illegally. He was hired by the Washington Post after presenting a driver's license from Oregon State, where rules on issuing such papers are relatively lax compared to other states. This is not uncommon in the U.S., which is home to 11.2 million illegal aliens. Recent statistics show that eight percent of children born in the U.S. have at least one parent who is an illegal alien.
The first wave of foreign laborers began entering Korea back in 1987. The country accepted them because few Koreans were willing to take on the so-called "3D" jobs, an acronym for dirty, dangerous or difficult. As the number of foreign laborers swelled, the first murder among their ranks occurred in the spring of 1992 involving Pakistani laborers.
Ethnic Koreans from China began coming to Korea after Seoul and Beijing normalized diplomatic ties in 1992. The government then started to gather statistics on the number of foreign laborers in Korea and found that, by the end of the year, the number of illegal aliens stood at 30,889.
In the 2000s, foreign laborers began broadening their employment horizons beyond the 3D jobs and into low-paying manufacturing positions. The number of illegal aliens peaked in 2002 to account for half of the 629,006 foreigners residing in Korea but has steadily declined since then. As of the end of June this year, there were 166,518 such people in the country, accounting for 12 percent of the 1.39 million foreigners here. But new problems are about to emerge as the grace period afforded illegal aliens draws to an end.
Seok Dong-hyun, who is responsible for handling foreign resident policy at the Korea Immigration Service, told the Chosun Ilbo in an interview, "A renewed surge in the number of illegal aliens could become a ticking time bomb." He was referring to the fact that the four year and 10 month sojourn granted to 210,000 foreign laborers as part of the government's employment permit system ended in September of last year.
"Forty percent of the 8,800 foreign laborers who should have left Korea during the first half of this year are still here illegally and avoiding immigration authorities," Seok said. The sojourn period for 290,000 ethnic Koreans from China and the old Soviet countries also expires in January, and many of them could end up living in Korea as illegal aliens.
The government has taken a lax approach when it comes to illegal aliens as it only cracks down on them only when they commit crimes. It believes the present number of them is manageable from a law enforcement perspective, and is sufficient to make up for the lack of workers in low-paying, manufacturing jobs. But we cannot continue to accept them indefinitely. The limit should be drawn at a level where they can contribute to the Korean society and live under humane conditions, but if their numbers exceed that limit, they will become, as Seok said, "a ticking time bomb."
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