Labor Ministry’s quota system increasingly disadvantages Korean Chinese workers

Posted on : 2008-12-18 14:02 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Ethnic Korean Chinese workers, once hired to make up for shortages at construction sites, have become the targets of anger
 the day before International Migrants Day
the day before International Migrants Day

In response to the government’s recent presentation of a series of plans limiting the immigration and employment of Chinese-born ethnic Koreans, some are commenting that the government is only aggravating the disorder with their poorly calculated countermeasures.

The Labor Ministry announced Wednesday that it would introduce a “construction industry employment permit system,” specifying quotas for foreign personnel employed at construction sites, including Korean Chinese workers. It also said it would decide an appropriate scale of personnel after determining factors such as the hiring situation for Korean Chinese workers, the demand of companies and the possibility of substitution with Korean workers.

Thus far, Korean Chinese workers have been hired to make up for worker shortages at construction firms, but as construction work positions have decreased with the recent economic slump, they have become the targets of anger from people who accuse them of taking jobs away from Koreans.

The Labor Ministry estimates that around 170,000, or 9.3 percent, of the 1.8 million people employed at construction firms in the first half of this year were foreign workers, including those hired illegally. If the employment permit system is implemented, Korean Chinese individuals seeking employment at construction firms would be eligible for employment only after completing a course in safety education and receiving a permit for six months to one year at an employment support center.

The Ministry of Justice has been implementing a plan to reform its guest worker program for Korean Chinese workers since October. Based on this plan, the number of workers invited for working visits was reduced to three per one inviting individual, and immigration exceptions for elderly individuals born before 1949 were eliminated. “Recently, the number of ethnic Koreans entering the country as guest workers through the invitation of relatives has increased rapidly. Since most of them do not observe the lawful procedures, we improved the system in the interest of stabilizing the domestic employment market,” the Ministry of Justice announced.

In response, groups connected with Korean Chinese individuals expressed their opposition. “They introduced the guest worker program and used Korean Chinese workers as cheap labor, and now, just one year later, they’re limiting their employment and saying they steal jobs,” said a member of one of these groups.

“Korean-Chinese workers have worked at the very bottom of the labor market, since their wages are cheap and communication with them is smoother than with other foreign workers,” said Lee Ho-hyeong, director of the Seoul Korean Chinese Church’s human rights center. “Outwardly, they accepted Korean Chinese workers with a policy of treating them as fellow Koreans, and now that the situation is deteriorating, they’re treating them as a surplus labor force,” Lee added.

In launching the guest worker program in March 2007, the Ministry of Justice explained that its goal was “to expand hiring opportunities for foreign-born Koreans living in the regions of China and the former Soviet Union as part of a policy of eliminating discrimination and creating tolerance toward them.”

Of the 370,000 Chinese-born Koreans currently staying in South Korea, 300,000 are doing so on working visit visas. If they are 25 years of age or older, they may be employed in 34 types of industries, including the manufacturing industry, after completing procedures such as a hiring application.

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