When illicit employment is the trade-off for education

July 19, 2023 | 03:25 pm PT
Nguyen Nam Cuong Lecturer
At the crack of dawn, Tran Van Thai, a Vietnamese student in Gyeonggi province, came back to the dorm from his part-time work while most people were sound asleep.

Working for a Korean underground trader who lacks regular employees, Thai assumes the task of sorting and loading products ordered online.The Vietnamese student makes use of every available minute, working part-time to pay for school and living expenses while sending the rest of his money home to help pay off the money his family had borrowed to fund his education.

Thai is one of many overseas part-time students living in the Seoul suburbs. In order to ensure their own education and basic living conditions in Korea, they are willing to break the law and work more than the allowed 20 hours per week on the black market. This is another variant of the study abroad experience, this time in the form of a work-study model. Many Korean schools essentially ignore attendance records, giving overseas students the freedom to hold down part-time jobs while they study.

With an aging population, South Korea is now suffering from a severe lack of available workers across all industries. As the birth rate has plummeted over the years, many Korean schools have closed permanently or been forced to relocate to areas with a younger population. Korean education has come a long way since the end of the civil war, providing a comprehensive education with up-to-date, relevant curricula.

With such ample resources, the Koreans are now eager to market their educational offerings. In the case of Vietnam, one of its strategic partners, South Korea is now able to grasp the needs of many Vietnamese people through its annual in-depth surveys into Vietnam’s market.

As a teacher of multiple elementary Korean classes for recent high school graduates in the Mekong Delta, I have also seen an uptick in the number of students who opt to continue their education in South Korea rather than Vietnam. This is because nowadays, going to school in Korea is much more accessible, and the financial burden is much less than it used to be. Many of the students even have Vietnamese kin who are currently residing and working in Korea, or who have married Korean men.

It is common for Vietnamese women to wed Korean men so that they can help their families in Vietnam get out of poverty and start a new life. However, most of these family members who have traveled all the way to Korea are not there to further their education.

They hope to find lucrative employment in Korea. However, the EPS visa E9 program is time-consuming due to the strict processes of exam testing, application, and orientation. Seasonal agricultural workers with E8 visas, on the other hand, have it much simpler, with the required preparation time being only 6-12 months.

The big problem is that only applicants aged 30 and up are accepted. Therefore, the model of an overseas apprenticeship was developed to address this pressing concern among consumers.

It is possible for students to gain valuable work experience while studying abroad. Paid internships or new vocational training courses provide students with hands-on experience that complements the theoretical knowledge they acquire in university. That is the point and significance of the whole program.

However, many other issues will emerge if these practices are not properly managed. And if not, the possible result is that the students are unable to succeed both academically, professionally, or monetarily.

A student studies in Centennial Memorial Samsung Hall at the Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, August 1, 2016. Photo by Reuters

A student studies in Centennial Memorial Samsung Hall at the Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, August 1, 2016. Photo by Reuters

My friend, Thai's dad, knows this all too well and was recently coerced into returning his son. After two years of part-time work, the son has accomplished little to nothing. He is concerned that his son's lackluster education and mediocre degree will make it difficult for him to find gainful employment when he returns to Vietnam.

Young Vietnamese people have every right to seek better educational and employment opportunities anywhere. Plus, finding one's "promised land" is a personal journey. It is the responsibility of management, however, to ensure that their employees remain focused on their objectives at all times by implementing fair and reasonable policies.

In order to prevent the distorted forms of studying abroad that have emerged, it is essential to draw a line between the labor export program and studying abroad. First, we need to address the issues plaguing the E9 visa category of labor export, and enhance the screening and hiring procedures.

Our partners have come to view us as a reliable source over the past several decades, and as a result, we are in a position to ask for beneficial compensation for our efforts. If so, workers going to Korea will keep their bearings and the value of studying in another country will be restored.

On the other hand, foreign students in South Korea can rest assured that they are capable, reliable, and enthusiastic seasonal workers. Partners will simply not ignore this and are ready to have a strategy to attract those possessing such qualities.

Rather than studying abroad in order to work part-time, which exposes you to many risks that are not protected by law, you can create a sustainable livelihood by enrolling in the right program.

*Nguyen Nam Cuong is a lecturer at FPT University.

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