Traveling through South Korea these days I am continually impressed by the high level of economic and infrastructure development. South Korea has high speed trains, seamless 3G phone and internet service, modern highways, a sophisticated financial system, and almost everyone effortlessly uses the latest cutting edge technology.
South Koreans have pushed their country to the top tier in international rankings of gross domestic product, life expectancy, per capita income and worldwide brand recognition.
The Korean Wave pushes the music, the culture and the food of Korea into households throughout the world. Recently two of the top South Korean universities earned rankings among the top 100 universities in the world and, aside from some problems with the academy sector, the education system of South Korea is routinely regarded with envy by other countries, including America.
These things drive home the lesson that this is no longer the country seen in that classic American television show about the Korean war; M*A*S*H. And yet, despite this success South Korea still finds it difficult to attract qualified foreign professionals. Whether it is lawyers, bankers, professors, regular school teachers or the ubiquitous English academy teacher, too many foreign professionals in South Korea are simply not qualified for the positions they hold.
When South Korea was a developing nation it was understandable that qualified individuals from Western nations would have been rare. However, in 2012 it is unfathomable why South Korea continues to employ individuals in positions that they could not obtain in their home country.
South Korea has the economic clout to hire the best and the brightest from anywhere in the world. The country has the infrastructure and cultural attractions to appeal to such individuals.
The recent implementation of free trade agreements with the European Union and the United States is rapidly opening up the service industry to Western lawyers, financial and management professionals, and educational professionals.
If South Korea does not quickly improve the quality of the foreign professionals it employs, these service industries will be taken over by foreign law firms, foreign financial institutions and foreign universities or other educational institutions.
The blame for this situation does not lie with the foreign professionals who work in South Korea. These individuals meet the qualifications set forth by the South Korean government, educational authorities and hiring companies. The problem is the minimal standards promulgated by the South Korean education authorities and a focus by large companies and universities on hiring a token foreigner instead of an individual truly qualified to do the job.
Instead of requiring foreign professionals to meet the same standards as they would be required to meet in their home countries, these South Korean employers act like poor stepchildren willing to take the table scraps from Western countries.
Adding to the disorder are the frequent sensationalistic stories in the South Korean media about “unqualified foreign teachers” and the alleged rampant drug use, crime and perversion among foreigners.
Despite the fact that the statistics clearly show that foreign professionals are the least likely to violate the law, this yellow journalism has pushed the government to expend resources into AIDS testing, drug testing and criminal background checks with little effect. Instead of railing against the expanding multiculturalism of South Korea the press should urge that the necessary resources are expended to fully fund positions for foreign professionals and to perform appropriate background checks into education and work qualifications, not AIDS or drug testing.
The government needs to create a rational system to evaluate the foreign professionals coming to South Korea. This system could easily take advantage of the high level of English ability among many native South Korean professionals.
Combined with the large number of South Koreans who have extensive work experience overseas a pool of individuals could be created with the ability to make the necessary phone calls or other inquiries to ensure that qualified individuals are hired from foreign countries.
Foreign professionals who have successfully worked in their home countries as lawyers, bankers, professors or teachers will have no trouble providing references and credentials, and those who cannot provide such information are, in all probability, unqualified and should not be hired.
Even a basic background check on a social networking site for professionals, such as LinkedIn, can weed out most unqualified applicants.
Finally qualified foreign professionals already working in South Korea can act as a final backstop in vetting potential new hires.
As a first world country South Korea no longer should employ foreign professionals who lack the qualifications to hold the same positions in their home country.
Foreign professionals without the education, professional certification, experience or credentials to be a lawyer, professor, teacher or other professional in their home country should not be able to obtain such a position here. South Korea should leave it to developing countries to employ such individuals; they simply have no place in South Korea.
By Daniel Fiedler
Daniel Fiedler is a professor of law at Wonkwang University. He also holds an honorary position as an international legal advisor to the North Jeolla Provincial Government. ― Ed.