[OUTLOOK]Open Entry to Korea Would Save Lives

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[OUTLOOK]Open Entry to Korea Would Save Lives

The recent deaths of 25 people aboard a boat from China trying to enter South Korea illegally are lamentable. But if the source of the smuggling is not addressed, not only will smuggling continue, but the deaths will become meaningless.

At the Seoul Korean-Chinese Church, 200 notes are posted on the wall. They are notes looking for Korean-Chinese willing to work. Scores of Korean-Chinese find jobs through the notes. The number of notes are increasing because there is a plethora of employers wanting to employ Korean-Chinese workers due to a labor shortage. The shortage is so severe that the starting pay for housewives in their 50s is 900,000 won ($690) a month.

Given these circumstances, that Korean-Chinese are using all means to come to Korea is only natural. In China, phony residence registration cards can be bought. Korean-Chinese can easily forge marriage and work certificates. As a result, 95 percent of documents submitted to the South Korean consulate in Shimyang for entry visas are fake. Brokers demand 10 million won for entry into Korea from China and $3,000 from Mongolia. Because the charge is so high, smuggling naturally is on the rise. If they smuggle in 50 people, it would earn them 500 million won, so why would organized ring leaders shy away from such a profitable business?

Those smuggled in become illegal immigrants and often are denied wages, mistreated or suffer other hardships. They must work for a year and a half and save everything to pay back the 10 millon won. If they are caught before paying back the loan, suicide, divorce, mental illnesses, or life as a vagrant may await them in China. Those who manage to get another loan to pay the 10 million won and succeed in returning to Korea are the lucky ones.

As serious as the situation is, the government should boldly loosen entry regulations and allow free passage to Korea. This is akin to having had to tear down the Berlin Wall when it became impossible to block East Germans from entering West Germany. With this act, not only smuggling but the problems of forged marriage certificates and the 10 million won in entry cost would disappear.

It would also prevent Korean-Chinese families from falling apart. This applies not only to Korean-Chinese. The free entry to Korea of native Chinese is also important. Of the 1.3 billion Chinese, 100 million have become prosperous enough to travel to Europe as tourists. Easing entry requirements for Chinese would help revive Korea's tourism industry.

If free entry is granted, Korea would overflow with foreign workers. This can be prevented by requiring work permits. Koreans can go to Europe without a visa, but not many live in Europe, because work permits are not easily granted. If we allowed foreigners visa-free entries as Europe does, then we could crack down on illegal immigrants. We have had a large number of illegal immigrants not because regulation is impossible. Cracking down on illegal immigrants is possible if the government decides to do so, because Korea requires its residents to carry their residence registration cards. But because of the worker shortage for the "3D" jobs - difficult, dangerous and dirty - a crackdown on illegals would force many small and medium-sized companies to close their businesses. At the same time, because they paid 10 million won to enter Korea, if deported, a serious human rights problem could develop. Therefore, the government has not been able to properly regulate immigration. But if free entry is granted, it could deport them without any burden.

Payments to obtain work permits would then become a problem. To prevent this problem, a Korean language exam should be introduced and work permits given to those with the highest scores. This would provide an incentive for Korean-Chinese and Korean-Russians to relearn Korean and for Southeast Asians to learn Korean. Or the government could directly absorb the payment and use it for good purposes. Singapore used this system and succeeded.

When work permits are given out, however, the number of Korean-Chinese who receive them should be greatly expanded, not because they are Korean by nationality, but because we owe them. These are people who should have returned to Korea soon after Korea became independent from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. But their passage home was blocked when Kim Il-sung came to rule in North Korea. Their entry to Korea should have been opened after South Korea and China normalized relations. But Korea would not grant them the right to live in their homeland. We should feel sorry for that and devise measures from their point of view.


The writer is a pastor at the Korean-Chinese Church of Seoul.

by Soh Kyung-suk

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