Rising rates of illegal Vietnamese workers in S. Korea: report

By Hong Chieu   November 25, 2023 | 04:00 pm PT
Rising rates of illegal Vietnamese workers in S. Korea: report
An illegally staying Vietnamese worker at a South Korean factory in 2016. Photo by VnExpress/Tien Hung
The rate of Vietnamese workers staying illegally in South Korea has increased to 34.5%, equal to the level in 2018, according to a labor report.

The report, issued on Friday by the Center of Overseas Labor, revealed that in the first nine months of 2023, the rate of illegal workers in South Korea was 34.5%. In 2020, due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, the rate dropped to 20%, before increasing to 28% in 2022.

Localities with high rates of illegal workers in Korea, at 33-37%, were Hai Duong, Lang Son, Nam Dinh and Vinh Phuc Provinces in northern Vietnam.

Nguyen Gia Liem, deputy head of the Department of Overseas Labor, said the rate of illegal workers dropping during the pandemic period was due to low production and recruitment demands. In 2023, as the number of workers going abroad increased and production resumed to normal, the rate of illegal workers increased as well.

Both Vietnam and South Korea have considered measures to resolve the issue, such as by imposing recruitment restrictions on businesses that hire illegally staying workers, or by fining and imprisoning illegal workers. South Korea also considers adjusting the yearly recruitment quotas for countries with high numbers of illegal workers.

"Workers staying abroad illegally affect the opportunity for others from the same hometown to go abroad," said Bui Quoc Trinh, vice director of the Hai Duong Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs. As localities are met with recruitment restrictions due to high numbers of illegal workers, other workers do not know when they will be able to travel abroad, he added.

Workers in Hai Duong's Chi Linh City are still banned from traveling to South Korea for work this year, as 83 illegal workers in South Korea have come from the city. Trinh said it's difficult to convince them to go back home because they have already established their own networks there.

Trinh proposed that South Korea should have appropriate management measures to prevent the issue, citing Hai Duong's measures that have successfully managed 5,000 foreign workers as an example. When workers end their contracts with employers, employers need to inform authorities about such matters, he said. Police must also manage data regarding foreign workers in Vietnam, he added.

Le Van Luong, vice director of the northern Yen Bai Province's labor department, said most workers who go abroad need to borrow money to do so, while their working duration is only three years. At a monthly income of around VND40 million ($1,647), after deducting expenses, workers can only save up a few hundred million Vietnamese dong. As many workers want to improve their income, they will try to stay illegally and continue working.

Luong said certain South Korean businesses will create opportunities for illegal workers to stay, as they are already used to the job, meaning there will be no cost to hire someone else to do the training.

"If the duration of work stays is increased, the rate of illegal workers will drop, and South Korean businesses will also have the opportunities to stabilize their production," he said.

Vietnam and South Korea have had labor supply agreements for over 30 years. Workers in Vietnam mainly come to South Korea through the Employment Permit System (EPS) and work in industries like manufacturing, construction, agriculture and fishery. Their monthly salaries range from VND36-40 million.

Since the EPS program launched in 2004, over 127,000 workers have traveled to South Korea for work.

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