Majority of Korean firms show support for foreign labour: Survey

Major business lobby groups have submitted proposal to the government advocating increase of foreign workers.

Song Seung-hyun

Song Seung-hyun

The Korea Herald


Passengers arrive at Incheon Airport on July 2. (Yonhap)

July 18, 2023

SEOUL – Two major business lobby groups on Monday called on the government to expand the current quotas of foreign labor in 2024 and enhance the foreign labor system to help enterprises grappling with worker shortages.

In response to a decreased number of foreign workers in Korea due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government increased the quota for nonprofessional foreign workers with E-9 visas to a record high of 110,000 individuals this year.

In a survey result that the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry submitted to the government, 43.2 percent of respondents supported maintaining the existing foreign labor quota and 46.8 percent advocated for further expansion.

Only 9.2 percent of respondents said quotas should be reduced, while 0.8 percent said they had no opinion on the issue.

The survey on the employment status of foreign labor was conducted with 502 companies that currently employ foreign workers.

More than half of the companies (57.2 percent) responded that they feel there is an insufficient number of nonprofessional foreign workers with E-9 visas when asked about their availability.

The primary reason for the shortage was the vacant positions resulting from Korean workers’ changing jobs (41.5 percent). This was followed by the inability to hire more foreign workers due to employment quotas (20.2 percent), foreign workers changing jobs and other reasons (17.8 percent), and the challenge of finding suitable foreign workers for the job (16.4 percent).

The survey also asked about the difficulties that Korean firms face due to the job-switching situation of foreign workers.

Under the current system, foreign workers can switch jobs only under limited circumstances, such as when the employer terminates the employment contract or engages in unlawful or unfair practices that make it difficult for the worker to continue working.

Among the surveyed companies, 52.4 percent reported having experienced instances where foreign workers demanded the termination of their employment contracts to switch workplaces.

In cases where such requests were denied by the companies, the foreign workers were found to exhibit unprofessional work attitudes, such as perceived laziness (41.1 percent), unauthorized absences (14.8 percent), unauthorized departures from the workplace (8.7 percent) and engaging in collective action (4.2 percent), according to the survey.

Along with the survey result, the lobby group also submitted proposals for improving the current foreign labor system based on the findings to the government.

The proposals include suggestions on expanding the intake quota and the permissible number of foreign employees, as well as extending the duration of stay for nonprofessional foreign workers, or E-9 visa holders.

For skilled foreign workers on the E-7 visa, there is a proposal to tighten qualifications specifically in the shipbuilding industry, addressing concerns raised about lacking skills of workers in that sector.

In the survey — regarding improvements to the foreign workforce system that companies desire — the most commonly mentioned aspect was the relaxation of reentry periods for foreign workers (53 percent).

Currently, the E-9 visa permit can be further extended, but one would have to depart and reenter Korea for the renewal.

Aside from the reentry requirement, many respondents also asked for expanding the quota of employees per workplace (43.2 percent) and strengthening requirements for foreigners switching workplaces (36.6 percent).

Meanwhile, the Korea International Trade Association also published a report on foreign workers in the trade sector, which similarly showed a need for more foreign workers.

The report was based on a survey conducted in December 2022 and April this year, with a total of 215 and 484 company responses, respectively.

According to the survey, 56.8 percent of the firms reported they are facing difficulties due to a lack of labor. Among companies located outside of the Seoul metropolitan area, 60.1 percent expressed concerns about a shortage of workforce.

Among the 62 companies that are currently employing foreign workers, the average number of foreign workers employed is 7.4 per company.

However, to meet actual demand at the worksites, it is necessary to increase the number of foreign workers per company to approximately 1.6 times the current employment level, according to the KITA survey.

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