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Ministry cold to amending foreign worker laws

Labor Minister Bahk Jae-wan recently met with ambassadors and representatives of 15 labor-sending countries to discuss issues and concerns among the foreign migrant workforce.

During the meeting, Philippines Ambassador Luis T. Cruz mentioned that 1,680 Filipino workers and 308 Korean employers submitted a petition to the Korean government, recommending improvements to the Employment Permit System regulations.

The main crux of the amendments included a waiver for retaking Korean Language Tests and other requirements for foreign workers returning under the EPS scheme, an extension of the age limit, an extension of stay for workers beyond the prescribed four years and 10 months and a reduction to the waiting period of six months before a former worker could return to Korea for a new sojourn.

One high-ranking envoy from a labor-sending country said that the Labor Ministry should be more flexible concerning the number of years that an unskilled laborer could stay under the EPS system.

“They should be flexible in terms of the continuation of their stay and also take the local employer’s request into consideration if both parties request an extension to their (foreign worker’s) sojourn,” said the envoy who requested anonymity.

All envoys from labor-sending countries believe that it would be of interest to both countries if the laws where changed.

Bahk said that the issues raised would be considered by his Ministry, and that “some of them would be accepted in the future.”

He added that the matter of extending the stay of foreign workers beyond the prescribed tenure would have to be addressed together with other Korean government agencies, such as the Ministry of Justice and the Korean Immigration Service.

One envoy, while requesting strict anonymity, said that a ministry official told him the reason why extensions are not granted beyond five years is so that foreign laborers would not qualify for citizenship.

“This is narrow-minded thinking,” he said.

During the meeting, it was announced that Korea will increase the quota of foreign workers to 48,000 but countries with a high rate of undocumented workers will be subject to suspension of receiving process or rejection of the MOU renewal.

Beginning in 2004, Korea signed bilateral labor agreements with 15 countries through the EPS, which includes Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The hiring of non-professional foreign workers is aimed to fill the vacancies in the manufacturing, agriculture and construction sectors, which are normally shunned by Korean workers.

By Yoav Cerralbo (