[EDITORIALS]Foreign workers neededOne year has passed since the employment permit system for foreign workers was introduced with high expectations. Though the program is still in an early stage, it can be said that it has made great strides in the management of foreign workers and the protection of their rights. The industrial trainee system that Korea once used to import industial workers led to large numbers of foreigners overstaying their limits and losing legal status, leading to situations in which their rights were violated. It has been proven that the permit system is a more advanced one.
But it has also failed to significantly reduce the number of illegal workers. It has failed to meet industry’s demand for manpower. At industrial workplaces, there are complaints that foreign manpower is not being supplied on time because the permit system entails a stricter immigration procedure. In practice, the number of foreigners permitted to enter the country under the system was a mere 15,000 by the end of last month ― a far cry from the 70,000 that the government set as a goal. Although the government says it has drastically streamlined the rules and procedures that accompany the permit system, it seems that those measures have not been enough to attract sufficient manpower from overseas. In particular, the regulation that limits the employment of Korean-Chinese to construction and service industries must be revised as soon as possible. The shortage is mainly in the manufacturing sector, and the government’s regulations are blocking the flow of manpower to manufacturing industries.
At the same time, a measure for coping with illegal workers is needed. According to the Justice Ministry, 197,000 foreign workers were in Korea illegally as of the end of June. Despite intensive checks and enforcement of the law, the number is still climbing. Illegal foreign workers adapt quickly to our society and create various social problems. Considering Koreans’ abhorrence of the “3-D” jobs (dirty, dangerous and difficult), and the rapid aging of our society, the demand for foreign workers will only increase. The need to attract skilled manpower from overseas has become a national strategic necessity.
The foreign worker issue has gone beyond the need to fill an industrial labor gap. Now it is time to prepare a comprehensive policy under the premise that we have to live with them, accommodating them in various fields of our society.