Korean seasonal job scams rife in Vietnam

By Nguyen Hang   February 21, 2024 | 03:21 pm PT
Many people are falling prey to scammers who lure them into believing they can get seasonal jobs in South Korea under an official employment program.

As her company lost orders and continued to lay off employees, Tran Thi Lan, a garment worker in HCMC, turned to the internet to look for a job.

Initially she did not plan to work abroad, but then started seeing offers for seasonal jobs in South Korea.

She says: "The advertisements are very appealing. Like you can make VND40-45 million (US$1,640-1,840) a month.

"Initially they told me I only had to deposit VND5 million and then the total cost would be VND41 million and whatever else you have to pay over there. That's how it works. Doesn't it sound tempting?

"They say it is nine or 10 months of work in South Korea. When I messaged them, someone replied and told me to take a photo of my passport and could complete the procedures online if I was far away."

She only needed to send photographs of her passport and some other documents; there was no need for qualifications or any other additional requirements.

Thinking about the simple procedures and the small deposit of VND5 million, she decided to try her luck.

"I thought, why not give it a try, put in some hard work, go abroad, and earn some extra income."

After she paid the deposit the broker demanded another VND10 million for "overseas worker insurance," [the term used by the broker].

Suspecting a scam, she asked her relatives and discovered she had indeed been cheated.

"Just one day after I deposited VND5 million they called me and said I had to pay another VND10 million for insurance.

"They pushed me and said they will return the deposit within an hour after I pay the insurance. I told them I do not have that much money. They pushed me again, telling me to take a loan quickly. I firmly refused and asked for my deposit back. Eventually they said OK."

However, immediately after the call, the account was deleted on Facebook and Zalo, a Vietnamese social media app, and she was blocked from calling that number.

Lan’s loss was VND5 million.

The person on the phone had given her an address in Hanoi, and she contacted the police to give it to them. But they confirmed she had been scammed.

"I was very upset. They promised me that everything would be ready for me to fly to South Korea on Feb. 18."

Laborers wait to complete procedures to take a Korean language test to go to work legally in South Korea in 2023 in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Laborers wait to complete procedures to take a Korean language test to go to work legally in South Korea in 2023 in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Since 2022 the governments of South Korea and some Vietnamese provinces have been signing agreements that allow people from the latter to work seasonally in that country under the E8 visa program.

To be eligible for the visa, candidates should be aged 30-55 and have no criminal record or a ban on leaving Vietnam. Besides, they must have lived for at least 12 months in a locality that has an agreement with South Korea.

So far 14 provinces and cities have signed up.

The average cost to register for the program is around VND20 million.

Seasonal workers are allowed to extend their stay, but not beyond eight months from the date of entry.

This program excludes businesses, meaning workers who are interested must contact the local Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs.

But recently there have been lots of offers on social media by brokers claiming they can send people to work in South Korea under the E8 visa scheme.

They also claim people of any age and from any place can get the visa.

Many advise further that the guest workers can extend their stay and work in South Korea for years, instead of just a short period as per the visa regulations.

Nguyen Manh Toan in the northern Vinh Phuc Province recently trusted a friend’s recommendation and lost VND70 million ($2,860) to a broker who promised to send him to South Korea for seasonal work without needing to learn Korean.

He says: "That VND70 million was just a deposit against my disappearing. The company said the total cost is $10,000."

When he was invited over to sign the contract, it was not at a company but a normal house.

He says there was a group of some four people there and they said they were lawyers from a firm in HCMC. They took a photo of the contract, which has the names and addresses of the company, and gave him a copy.

His friend had told him that he could work in South Korea for 10 months after signing the contract, return to Vietnam to extend the contract and work for another 10 months.

The contract said the deposit would be refunded if Toan could not go by the end of October last year, but October came and went and nothing happened.

He kept asking them and they kept assuring him but without specifying when he could leave.

Fully trusting his friend, he did not bother to look up the E8 visa regulations or even read the contract carefully.

Only half a year after the promised departure date did Toan discover that Vinh Phuc, his province, was not one of the 14 provinces which had signed up for the E8 visa program.

"At first I was very convinced, but after I learned about it I knew there was no such category as 10 months but only five or six months at most. So I knew I was scammed.

"My friend went to South Korea earlier under the labor ministry's scheme. He successfully went to work there and then returned. He said he knew this connection and so introduced me. I thought he understood the process since he had experience, and so I believed him."

Toan says he used to think about registering to go to work in Japan under a program of the Ministry of Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs.

But he admits he is too "lazy" to put himself through Japanese language and training courses.

"This place [the people who scammed him] did not require learning the language; you could just go. That's why I liked it."

People walk in a park in Seoul, South Korea, October 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Nga

People walk in a park in Seoul, South Korea, October 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Nga

Based on information in the contract, Toan and some others in his village who had also been scammed went to the brokerage company to demand the return of their money, but it denied responsibility.

"They told us to ask the representative who received the money, and said it was not responsible."

Recently authorities in some provinces have warned workers about scams involving seasonal work in South Korea.

Ha Tinh Province’s Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, after reports that scams were rife, clarified last December that it had not signed any agreement with South Korea, meaning it was not one of the 14 provinces and cities that could send labor to work there.

The Department of Overseas Labor has called on the police in some localities to investigate some companies that collected money from workers with promises of sending them to work under the E8 visa program.

Late last month police in the southern Hau Giang Province arrested a Vietnamese-South Korean woman for allegedly defrauding hundreds seeking employment in South Korea and pocketing VND10.5 billion (US$427,800).

She too lured people with promises of salaries of VND40-50 million a month, and charged them a fee of VND35 million.

But after she failed to facilitate their travel to South Korea, the victims complained to the authorities.

Married to a Korean man and living in South Korea for nine years now Duong Thi Thuy of the northern Quang Ninh Province wanted to take her whole family with her to work.

But since she lacked knowledge about the process and procedures and job contacts she allowed a broker in her hometown to act on her behalf.

Since the broker was a relative, she completely trusted the person.

But when none of them managed to set foot in South Korea two years after she paid the broker nearly VND1 billion, she realized she had been scammed.

She says, sad but wiser: "Quang Ninh Province is not in the E-8 visa list but the broker still took money from my family. Since March 2022, the service has not managed to send anyone to South Korea. We live in the same province and that person even has family ties with me. I had so much trust. I never thought for once it could be a scam."

She and other victims have filed a lawsuit together.

The Department of Overseas Labor Management said workers should contact only the Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs in their area and not any individual or brokerage if they want to avail an E8 visa.

go to top