May 03, 2022 08:36
Foreign workers who left during the coronavirus pandemic are unlikely to return soon even though Korea has lifted travel restrictions, leaving many small businesses here high and dry.
According to the Justice Ministry, E-9 non-professional employment visas that allow holders to work in farming or manufacturing were issued to 219,000 Cambodians, Nepalese and other foreigners as of February, down 58,000 from late 2019. The number of ethnic Koreans from China or central Asian countries nearly halved from about 226,000 to some 120,000 over the period.
An official of the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business said, "We've been inundated with phone calls from small business owners asking for foreign workers."
One 55-year-old farmer and his wife are working only with a Cambodian man and his wife on their cucumber farm with over 20 greenhouses in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province. "I've failed to find any more foreign regular workers since two Vietnamese returned to their country last December."
This is also a problem for restaurants that typically rely on Korean-Chinese workers. The 59-year-old owner of a pork hock restaurant in Seoul complains that nobody has responded to a job opening notice he posted two months earlier, expecting the end of the pandemic.
The harder it is to find foreign workers, the higher the wages or bonuses are offered to them. "I've promised the Cambodians that I'll increase their October bonus from W1 million to W3 million to keep them from leaving," the cucumber farmer said (US$1=W1,267).
The shortage will likely remain unresolved for the time being. Tens of thousands of daily new COVID cases are still occurring in Korea and many other countries, and many international flights have not resumed yet.
An official with the Ministry of Employment and Labor said, "In 2019, about 4,000 E-9 visa holders arrived every month. We're trying to make sure that more will come this year."
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