An embarrassing decision

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An embarrassing decision

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is said to have ordered layoffs of Korean staff at its missions across Asia after the government decided to waive group tour visas to Seoul for visitors from China, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Cambodia as part of efforts to draw more tourists. It is a typical case of poor administrative planning by neglecting the side effects of a public policy. Local staff at Korean overseas missions will be suddenly out of a job by the end of the month because the ministry has not considered the obvious revenue loss from the extended visa waiver program.

The government decided to exempt visa application fees for Chinese tourists as part of packaged measures to stimulate domestic demand through increased tourist spending as exports are deteriorating. Korea’s traditional mainstay exports like electronics, automobile, steel and shipbuilding have been doing poorly due to weakened competitiveness. The country’s external account would inevitably be pared this year.

But a policy must be implemented after a thorough review of potential repercussions regardless of how just the cause. Korea’s credibility is at stake. Korean missions in China offer more than 6 million visas a year. At the embassy in Beijing alone, one staff has to review 22,000 cases a year. If staff is scaled down, chaos is inevitable. It would take longer to review the piles of visa applications. The diplomatic missions in China also have to be extra careful to filter out those seeking illegal entry or North Korean spies disguising as ethnic Koreans of Chinese nationality. Under a heavy workload, the desk workers would be less scrutinizing.

It is also unjust to give the staff just a month’s notice before they’re dismissed. Although the action does not violate any law, it is not right to lay off staff because of an administrative cause. The local staff could develop ill feelings towards Korea after such long devotion to the country. The foreign ministry must come up with appropriate countermeasures. It is embarrassing to tell the staff to leave because the country cannot afford to their service.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 6, Page 30

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