Visa changes aim to beef up science, technology talent

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Visa changes aim to beef up science, technology talent

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Skilled foreigners and Koreans with foreign citizenship who aspire to study, work or start science and technology businesses will be able to stay in Korea for as long as five years with an F-2 visa, as part of a government initiative to lure more talent from abroad.

The policy change was announced yesterday by Prime Minister Chung Hong-won.

Currently, people who have a spouse of Korean citizenship or have lived in the country for five years can apply for the F-2 visa. They can extend their residency by three years every time they apply if they have at least 80 out of 120 points.

The government originally established the F-2 visa to attract more talent. Now, by relaxing visa conditions, it targets foreigners with extensive research history and tech-related business experience, and state-run exchange program participants.

They will be able to apply for five-year extensions, while other F-2 visa holders will continue to be eligible for three-year extensions.

The Justice Ministry said it will also enhance immigration-related services for this talent pool. Electronic visas will be issued to all “gold” and “science” card holders, who are scientists and engineers with E-7 visas, and open an exclusive visa window at 10 more branches of the Korea Immigration Service this year.

Scholars at colleges and research institutes, entrepreneurs and gifted international students will be direct beneficiaries.

By 2017, the government aims to bring in a total of 36,650 highly skilled foreigners. The largest share will be 27,500 corporate employees who are eligible for E-4, E-7 and some D-8 visas, including technology instructors and start-up founders in the manufacturing and service sectors. It hopes to attract 7,500 researchers and professors with E-1 and E-3 visas, and about 1,650 international students - particularly recipients of Global Korea Scholarships and those accepted to the four engineering specialty universities, including Kaist, Gist, DGIST and Unist.

For researchers, a fellowship program will be launched next year benchmarking the United Kingdom’s Newton International Fellowship. The program mainly consists of three groups that all receive travel and living expenses.

Master’s and doctorate-level researchers will enroll in Korean universities and receive scholarships of 1.8 million ($1,676) to 2.5 million won. Young post-doctorate researchers and experienced research fellows will work at an institute and receive the same salary as local researchers.

The government will start next year by recruiting about 30 student researchers in master’s and doctorate programs and 20 researchers, with a total of 200 by 2017.

“The government and institutes will evaluate those people periodically, quite often, and decide whether to continue funding,” said a Science Ministry official.

The government also will try to lure locally educated engineers working overseas back to Korea. They will be selected based on past research performances.

To bring in foreigners, the government plans to subsidize employees of multinational companies to enroll in master’s and doctorate-level engineering programs at Korean institutes and match them with local tech companies.

In a bid to foster quality international students and later encourage them to find jobs in local institutions, the government will invite more students through the Global Korea Scholarship program - run by the National Institute for International Education - from more countries.

Besides state-scholarship recipients, the Education Ministry will expand the academic performance certification system to raise overall quality of international students. It currently does tests on undergraduate foreign students.

For industries, the Korea Trade-Investment Agency (Kotra) will expand its Contact Korea program, in which the agency matches foreign college graduates and experienced professionals with small and midsize companies in its global network.

Kotra certifies small numbers of professionals with certain technology skills that are difficult to find locally with its “gold card” and recommends them to companies in need.

Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry and Small and Medium Business Administration established the D-8 start-up and corporate investment visas.

In the past, foreign entrepreneurs already had to have established a venture and meet all the administration requirements.

They also had to wait an average of 4.8 years to become certified as holders of technology patents and ensure their businesses met administration standards. Now, the new D-8 visa is expected to open a wide range of opportunities for current and potential entrepreneurs. It requires academic credentials of at least a bachelor’s degree, a tech-related patent and a registered business.


BY KIM JI-YOON [jiyoon.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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