Small Businesses Desperate to Hire Foreign Workers

  • By Ahn Sang-hyun

    June 01, 2021 08:26

    The coronavirus pandemic has brought the influx of foreign workers to a halt, resulting in an acute shortage of staff in small businesses in Korea.

    In the first quarter of this year, small and mid-sized companies told the Korea Federation of SMEs that they need 11,000 foreign workers, but only 4,500 have been matched with employers.

    According to the Justice Ministry, only 3,518 work visas were issued in the first four months of this year, a mere 10 percent of the same period last year. A staffer at the federation said, "At present, 86.9 percent of SMEs in Korea are either suffering from production problems due to a staff shortage or are about to encounter one."

    Some small employers are offering substantial salary hikes and better accommodation, but not all have the cash, and those who cannot keep up are losing their foreign workers to competitors.

    Kim Hyo-sup (56), who runs a paper mill in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, said, "Many of the foreign workers in my company are quitting to move to higher-paying jobs." They also increasingly shun dangerous or onerous jobs.

    Even if smaller companies almost double wages to attract foreign workers, it can prove futile. One staffer at an automotive parts factory in Gyeonggi Province said, "Many workers just disappear and shut off their phone. We can't find replacements."

    Some companies are holding on to foreign workers whose contracts have expired. In fact, 392,311 foreigners were overstaying their visa as of last month, or around 20 percent of all legal foreign workers.

    Last month, the government extended expired work visas until Dec. 31 in view of the labor shortage in small companies and farms. It also promised to improve the welfare of foreign laborers here. The government aims to admit 52,000 foreign workers this year, but SMEs say that will not be enough to cover the shortfall.

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