The government wants to allow foreigners to work in hospitality to help alleviate a labor shortage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. That would mean foreigners on E-9 non-professional employment visas can work in restaurants from the second half of next year.Currently only ethnic Koreans from China and former Soviet republics on H-2 visitor visas can work at restaurants, but the new policy would free up workers from 16 other countries such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam to work in hospitality.But they may be restricted to certain menial back-of-house jobs if their Korean is not good enough to wait at tables.
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Chung Hwang-keun announced the policy on Wednesday. The ministry will add restaurants to worksites for E-9 visa holders after consultations with the Ministry of Employment and Labor and the Justice Ministry. It also plans to increase the quota for the service sector.Of 59,000 job openings earmarked for E-9 visa holders this year, a mere 100 were allotted to the service sector, far fewer than the 44,500 for manufacturing, 8,000 for agriculture and 4,000 for fisheries.Lockdown brought on a dire shortage of hospitality staff because many who were laid off or furloughed found alternative work in the gig economy, and now restaurants are struggling to keep up with resurgent custom. Korean Chinese can also now get better pay at home."I've removed menu items that need a lot of work because it's difficult to find staff," said a 67-year-old man who has run a restaurant in Seoul's Songpa district for more than 20 years. "Nobody answers job ads these days."According to the Labor Ministry, the hospitality sector had a shortage of 26,911 workers in the first half of 2021, which increased 2.8-fold to 74,361 in the first half of this year. In 2020, 1.92 million workers worked in the sector, accounting for 7.7 percent of all workers.The hospitality industry welcomed the decision. Lee Chul of the Korea Food Service Industry Association said, "Even Korean-Chinese workers are in short supply recently as restaurant jobs are regarded as dirty, difficult and demeaning."