May 04, 2021 08:34
Well-paid overseas postings, long the dream of many Korean workers, have quickly lost their luster due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business recently polled 300 exporters, and 84 percent of respondents said they have problems with their overseas operations, 38 percent of them because they have trouble relocating staff abroad.
One staffer in a big IT company in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, was sent to Chongqing, China for four months last year, and the experience turned into a nightmare. He was confined to his hotel room and office for three months and had to go into quarantine for another month when he came home.
"In the past, people used to fight to get posted overseas, but now such assignments are shunned," he said. "People these days don't even want to be sent to the U.S. or Europe."
Fears of COVID-19 or lockdown conditions are the main reasons. Most countries except Taiwan and Israel are still considered more dangerous than Korea because infection numbers are so much higher. A spate of Korean workers at construction sites in Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have tested positive, and Korean staff on an engineering project in Iraq had to be airlifted out when they caught the virus.
One team leader with a large builder said, "There is a greater fear of being unable to get proper treatment than being infected with the virus. Our workers abroad are begging us to let them come home, and nobody here wants to go abroad, so we're having some problems."
Most countries put visitors into two weeks' quarantine, and on return to Korea they have to go through it all again. Many are also afraid of hate crimes against Asians that have recently been highlighted in the U.S., stoked by the belief that Asians somehow created COVID-19.
In addition, millennials seem generally less interested in overseas postings than previous generations because they tend to be more timid, lethargic and inward-looking.
Many workers throw in the towel. One man who landed a job as a software developer with a financial company in Chicago said, "Because I had to work from home, I spent many days without talking to anyone. I asked myself how that was any different from working online in Korea, so I decided to come back after just one year."
Most businesses now handle their overseas communication through video conferencing and make decisions remotely, which is expected to reduce the need to send staff abroad.
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