December 30, 2022 11:50
The government will revise labor laws for the first time in 19 years so foreign migrants can work in Korea for more than 10 years in a row and in a wider range of jobs.
Currently they must leave Korea after four years and 10 months and then reapply from overseas.
The entry barrier will also be lowered in jobs like housekeepers, nannies and warehouse workers where demand for foreign laborers is high. Ethnic Koreans from China and Central Asia will be allowed to work in most professions.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment on Thursday said the plans are aimed at addressing a growing labor shortage due to the low birthrate and aging population.
Work permits were introduced in 2004 to allow foreign menial laborers to come here amid a shortage at small and medium-sized manufacturers as more and more Koreans began to shun factory jobs. The government sets an annual hiring quota in manufacturing, agriculture, fisheries and construction and accepts applications from workers in 16 countries including Bangladesh, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.
They are then given E-9 visas for nonprofessional employment and allowed to stay here for just under five years so they do not qualify for permanent residency.
The immigration law was also revised to make it impossible for foreign workers on E-9 visas to apply for a residency permit if they overstay the limit, but the limit remained in place anyway. That meant employers had to let go even of trusted long-term staff once the four years and 10 months were up, resulting in a decline in productivity and much unnecessary paperwork.
But now the ministry wants to allow foreign workers who remain employed in a company for an extended period to stay for 10 years if they acquire expertise in a given profession and reach a certain proficiency in Korean.
The ministry said it will consider extending the period even longer if businesses and labor groups agree.
The number of unfilled positions in Korea reached a record in the second half of this year. Companies advertised 1.21 million jobs but were able to hire only 1.02 million workers, leaving 185,000 positions unfilled.
The problem is expected to worsen in the coming years as Korea's population declines. The working age population aged 15 to 64 is expected to dwindle from 36.68 million this year to 29.64 million in 2038.
Korea relies increasingly on foreign labor. The number of foreign workers employed here rose from 667,900 in 2013 to 884,300 in 2018. It declined temporarily as the coronavirus pandemic closed borders, but 843,000 foreigners are still employed here. The ministry concluded that addressing the shortage of laborers is more urgent than the risk of foreigners taking jobs away from Koreans.
However, the plans will have to be reviewed by experts, labor groups and other government agencies before they are submitted to the National Assembly in the first half of next year.
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