More Koreans seeking work on foreign shores

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More Koreans seeking work on foreign shores

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Students listen to an explanation on overseas job opportunities at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul recently. The Human Resources Development Service of Korea invited foreign employment agencies from Canada, Vietnam, Japan, China and Hong Kong for the explanatory session. By Kim Do-hoon


Unable to land a decent job after graduating, Ahn Eui-heon, now 28, drifted from one part-time position to another, struggling to make ends meet from month to month. He finally decided to go abroad and got a working holiday visa in Australia, where he landed a job at a furniture factory, earning 4,000 Australian dollars ($4,148) a month.

Ahn is one of an increasing number of Koreans who are looking overseas to find employment. Their ranks have swelled as they search for career opportunities outside the country, which is reeling from a highly competitive job market.

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The unemployment rate among young adults aged between 15 and 29 hit 8.3 percent in March compared to an overall jobless rate of 3.7 percent, according to data from the Ministry of Strategy and Finance.

The number of people who found positions or joined training programs through the Human Resources Development Service of Korea (HRDS) increased from 1,548 in 2007 to 4,057 last year. The fields in which they worked varied, with about 70 percent in office and service-related jobs, and 10 percent working in IT.

Countries like China, Australia and Canada absorb the most Korean workers. “The number of jobs in Canada and Australia are rising, while positions in China and Japan are on the decline,” said Park Youn-jung, an employee at the HRDS.

The agency found positions for 1,078 Koreans in China last year, compared to 976 new jobs in Australia and 783 in Canada, it reported.

Nearly 80 percent first go through training programs overseas that are heavily subsidized by the Korean government, and then find placements.

Seo Jeong-min, 35, quit his job due to overworking and stress after his wife had a miscarriage and sought help from the HRDS. He enrolled in a 10-month accounting program at Zarem-Golde ORT Technical Institute in Chicago in July 2010.

“People often ask me why I decided to go to the U.S. For sure, leaving everything behind in Korea was not an easy decision,” Seo said. “I just decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it.”

Seo said he did not have high expectations due to the U.S.’ high unemployment rate, so he was pleasantly surprised when a Korean professor recommended him for a position at an accounting firm in Chicago.

Kim Hyun-tae, 28, considered attending graduate school after college, among other options, before he stumbled upon the HRDS’ training programs in 2010. He was selected for an internship program at Wilshire State Bank and started working there as a loan officer.

Kim, who is still working in the U.S., said he would recommend the HRDS program to others. “I really had a chance to think about my future career path after I met and talked with a lot of people at the bank,” he said.

Those who found positions overseas said job seekers should not merely fantasize about working abroad. Ha Seon-jung, a 32-year-old male, joined an eight-month training program in Singapore to study logistics. He fortunately landed a position only one month after he joined the program.

“Not all training programs lead to jobs, so you have to make the effort to search for positions,” he said, adding that training programs offer limited assistance.

However, he said there are also merits.

“Here, people are not judged by their educational backgrounds or connections but by their abilities,” he said. “Even people like me who did not attend top universities in Korea are not discriminated against.”

Not all jobs are low-paying like those offered for people on working holidays.

Six Koreans joined EAI in the United Arab Emirates as mechanics through the HRDS. They are assigned to do maintenance work on aircraft and military helicopters. Their annual payment includes a basic salary of 120 million won ($105,318) as well as medical care and help with education fees.

The number of Koreans working for international organizations such as the United Nations also rose from 137 in 1991 to 398 in October 2011. Over 10,000 Koreans have obtained an H1 visa that allows them to work in the United States; however, Washington has been issuing fewer of these in recent years due to the economic slump in the U.S.

Some say that working overseas has given them a new sense of purpose.

Ahn recently returned to Korea, but now feels more fulfilled in general and is studying computer-aided design with a plan to emigrate to Australia.

“Up until two years ago, I was working part time and kept feeling sorry for myself, but after I went to Australia, everything changed,” Ahn said. “Now, I have a goal.”

“Job seekers should check if institutions that provide training are certified by their destination countries, and make sure that they receive work visas, not tourist visas, when they enter those nations to avoid subsequent immigration issues,” Park of the HRDS said.


By Limb Jae-un [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]

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