South Korea urged to join race for foreign talent: Report

According to a report, highly-skilled workers only made up 10 per cent of employment visas granted to 406,669 foreigners in 2021.

Choi Jae-hee

Choi Jae-hee

The Korea Herald



October 11, 2022

SEOUL – South Korea needs to bring in more professional foreign workers to cope with a continuous decline in the working-age population, a think tank said Friday.

According to a report published by the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade, educators, researchers, engineers, artists and highly-skilled workers accounted for a mere 10 percent of last year’s total 406,669 foreign nationals with employment visas.

The rest were mostly low-skilled workers in agriculture, construction and services, it added.

“In the face of an alarmingly fast change in demographics, there’s a growing need for an introduction of highly skilled workers (from overseas) to enhance the nation’s industrial competitiveness. As the current employment permit system for foreigners is mainly focused on low-paying jobs, government measures are needed to attract foreign professionals in growth sectors like IT,” the report said.

Since 2004, the government has allowed local companies with less than 300 regular workers to hire foreign laborers to boost industries struggling with labor shortages, such as agriculture, fishery, construction and manufacturing. These workers typically hold E-9 and H-2 visas.

The visa for highly-educated or skilled workers seeking employment in Korea is E-7, which has strict requirements including academic degrees and work experience in their relevant field, and is limited to a small number of specific jobs.

Unlike the companies hiring E-9 and H-2 visa holders, those who have E-7 holders on its payroll are required to maintain the proportion of foreigners below 20 percent of their total employees.

The report called on the immigration authorities to ease the current regulations on the introduction of highly skilled foreign workers, saying major economies including Japan are racing to attract foreign talent.

“Korea’s declining working-age population will pose significant downside risks to the nation’s economic growth. Facilitating employment of foreign professionals with particularly high-level skills can help boost rapidly evolving industries while strengthening the country’s international competitiveness,” a KIET official said.

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