ThesisPDF Available

The Republic of Korea’s Employment Permit System (EPS): Background and Rapid Assessment


Abstract and Figures

For the majority of the 20th century, the Republic of Korea was a country of net emigration, but it has entered the 21st century as a clear country of destination, in particular for workers from other Asian countries, who come to work mainly in small-and-medium sized enterprises and in agriculture. The Employment Permit System (EPS) is an example of a non-seasonal temporary labour migration programme that operates through bilateral government-to-government memoranda of understanding (MOU). This paper provides some background to the creation of the EPS, gives an overview of its functioning, and assesses its strengths and weaknesses in terms of migration governance and the protection of migrant workers. The paper is based mainly on existing desk-research as well as interviews with stakeholder representatives.
Content may be subject to copyright.
For more information visit the ILO topic portal on Labour Migration
Labour Migration Branch
Conditions of Work and Equality Department
Route des Morillons 4
CH-1211 Geneva 22
Phone: +41 (0)22 799 6667
Fax: +41 (0)22 799 8836
International Migration Papers No. 119
The Republic of Korea’s Employment
Permit System (EPS):
Background and Rapid Assessment
Min Ji Kim
ISSN 1020-2668
International Migration Papers No. 119
Labour Migration Branch
The Republic of Korea’s Employment Permit System (EPS):
Background and Rapid Assessment
Min Ji Kim
Copyright © International Labour Organization 2015
First published 2015
Publications of the International Labour Office enjoy copyright under Protocol 2 of the Universal Copyright Convention.
Nevertheless, short excerpts from them may be reproduced without authorization, on condition that the source is indicated.
For rights of reproduction or translation, application should be made to ILO Publications (Rights and Permissions),
International Labour Office, CH-1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland, or by email: The International Labour
Office welcomes such applications.
Libraries, institutions and other users registered with reproduction rights organizations may make copies in accordance with
the licences issued to them for this purpose. Visit to find the reproduction rights organization in your country.
ILO Cataloguing in Publication Data
Kim, Min Ji
The Republic of Korea's employment permit system (EPS) : background and rapid assessment / Min Ji Kim ; International
Labour Office, Conditions of Work and Equality Department, Labour Migration Branch. - Geneva: ILO, 2015
(International migration papers ; No. 119, ISSN: 1020-2668 ; 1564-4838 (web pdf))
International Labour Office. Conditions of Work and Equality Dept
labour migration / migrant worker / migration policy / work permit / social integration / good practices / role of ILO / Korea R
The designations employed in ILO publications, which are in conformity with United Nations practice, and the presentation
of material therein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the International Labour Office
concerning the legal status of any country, area or territory or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers.
The responsibility for opinions expressed in signed articles, studies and other contributions rests solely with their authors, and
publication does not constitute an endorsement by the International Labour Office of the opinions expressed in them.
Reference to names of firms and commercial products and processes does not imply their endorsement by the International
Labour Office, and any failure to mention a particular firm, commercial product or process is not a sign of disapproval.
ILO publications and electronic products can be obtained through major booksellers or ILO local offices in many countries,
or direct from ILO Publications, International Labour Office, CH-1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland.
Catalogues or lists of new publications are available free of charge from the above address, or by email:
Visit our website:
International Migration Papers No. 119 iii
INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................................. 1
BACKGROUND ............................................................................................................................... 3
I. From the ITS to the EPS ...................................................................................................... 3
II. The EPS – What it is and how it works .............................................................................. 5
Pre-Admission .............................................................................................................. 5
Post-Admission ............................................................................................................. 9
Return, reintegration and co-development .................................................................... 12
STRENGTHS .................................................................................................................................... 15
I. Alignment with the ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration ............................. 15
II. Increased transparency and reduction in undocumented migration and work ................... 17
III. Supporting the skills development and mobility of migrant workers ............................... 18
IV. Inclusive dialogue space ................................................................................................... 19
WEAKNESSES ................................................................................................................................ 21
I. Responding to labour shortages ........................................................................................... 21
II. Enforcement of national norms and effective governance ................................................. 28
III. Lack of awareness among migrant workers ...................................................................... 29
IV. Uneven distribution of resources ...................................................................................... 29
THREATS ......................................................................................................................................... 31
I. Lack of buy-in and alienation of key stakeholders .............................................................. 31
II. Gaps in national labour legislation ..................................................................................... 31
III. Post-admission gaps .......................................................................................................... 32
IV. Curtailed residency and their effects on the labour market and social integration ........... 33
V. Hidden costs ....................................................................................................................... 34
VI. Mixed messages and policy incoherence .......................................................................... 34
VII. Sectoral specifics ............................................................................................................. 35
OPPORTUNITIES ............................................................................................................................ 37
I. Recognizing and incentivizing compliance ......................................................................... 37
II. Inter-ministerial exchange of information and good practices ........................................... 37
III. Tripartite cooperation and partnerships ............................................................................ 38
CONCLUSION ................................................................................................................................. 41
BIBLIOGRAPHY ............................................................................................................................. 43
International Migration Papers No. 119 1
For the majority of the 20th century, the Republic of Korea (hereinafter, “South
Korea” or “Korea”) was a country of net emigration, but it has entered the 21st century as a
clear country of destination, in particular for workers from other Asian countries, who
come to Korea to work mainly in small-and-medium sized enterprises and in agriculture.
There were an estimated 547,000 migrant workers legally in Korea in 2011, representing
92 per cent of the entire foreigner population in Korea that year (MOJ 2013).
Notwithstanding Korea’s late entry into the circle of developed countries hosting
foreigners, the country was an early starter in the region in installing an official temporary
labour migration programme. It remains one of the few Asian countries to formally
acknowledge its need for low-skilled migrant labour and to have extended domestic labour
law protections to foreign workers at the same level as those accorded to national workers.
The ultimate consequence and manifestation of these developments is officially known as
the Employment Permit System (EPS).
The EPS is an example of a non-seasonal temporary labour migration programme that
operates through bilateral government-to-government memoranda of understanding
(MOU) at the complete exclusion—in principle—of private sector recruiters or agencies,
which is relatively rare, as much in the global context as in the Asian context. These MOU
stipulate the respective duties and responsibilities of the governments involved South
Korea and the government of sending countries – and coordinates the actions of both sides
regarding recruitment, selection, placement, protection and work-related benefits of
migrant workers bound for Korea. While non-governmental actors and even some private
service-providers are often involved in preparing potential EPS workers ahead of the
selection process or in facilitating the workers’ adjustment to life in Korean society after
entry (in the area of Korean language lessons, for example), the selection process itself is
the prerogative of the Korean government and its counterpart in the sending countries. This
exclusive governmental control was intentional from the outset. The EPS was designed to
stem the corruption, extortion, and consequent human rights abuses characteristic of
private sector-based recruitment in the region. This is perhaps the most important and most
promoted merit of the EPS. On June 23, 2011, the scheme was awarded the UN Public
Service Award for its contribution to increasing transparency and combatting corruption,
due mostly to this exclusive government-to-government arrangement.
First adopted into South Korean legislation via the Law concerning the Employment
Permit for Migrant Workers of 31 July, 2003—more widely known as the “EPS Act”
and entering into force almost exactly a year later, the EPS is approaching its tenth
anniversary. Considering that the present moment represents an apt opportunity to do a
rapid assessment of the system’s performance thus far, identify its successes and explore
possibilities for its improvement, the objective of this paper is to determine if and in what
manner the EPS satisfies its stated objective of achieving “the smooth supply and demand
of manpower and the balanced development of the national economy by systematically
introducing and managing foreign workers”
in a transparent and sustainable way. At its
broadest level, the EPS is organised into three stages—pre-admission, post-admission, and
return and reintegration. Therefore, this paper will also evaluate to what extent the EPS
satisfies the exigencies of Korea’s labour and immigration policies at each of these stages.
For the complete list of winners of the 2011 UN Public Service Award, see
EPS Act, Article 1
2 International Migration Papers No. 119
Since the focus of this paper will be the EPS as a scheme and structure, it will not dwell
extensively on the individual actions or behaviour of the actors within it, except where they
are a direct effect of or directly affect the structure of the system and its application.
types of visas are issued through the EPS: H-2 visas for ethnic Koreans with foreign
citizenship (e.g.: ethnic Koreans in China) and E-9 visas for non-ethnic Korean foreign
workers. This paper will only examine the EPS as it relates to the E-9 category of workers.
It is based mainly on existing desk-research as well as interviews with stakeholder
Local and international NGOs have been active in documenting information of this nature,
detailing specific incidences of concern in relation to human rights and labour standards. See, in
particular, Amnesty International’s 2009 report, “Disposable Labour: Rights of Migrant Workers in
South Korea”, Amnesty International, October 2009.
International Migration Papers No. 119 3
I. From the ITS to the EPS
From the 1980s, the Korean economy began to experience consistent labour shortages
as a result of rapid industrialisation, economic development and emigration of Korean
nationals to the West starting from the 1960s.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)
in the manufacturing sector were hit particularly hard. Furthermore, the country was
undergoing a major demographic shift that was negatively impacting on available
workforce size. The country was transitioning from a growing population marked by youth
to one that was ageing and with a declining birth rate. Korea’s birth rate is well below the
OECD average and reputed to be the lowest in the world (MOJ 2008).
With Korea’s
growing prosperity and the rising educational attainments of its population, Korean
workers were less and less likely to occupy the low-paying, physically strenuous or
hazardous jobs often deemed in the local parlance as dirty, dangerous, and degrading—the
so-called “3D jobs”—that typically characterize jobs in local SMEs. That this labour
shortage was structural and not a momentary phenomenon became evident with the arrival
of the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Between 1997 and 1999, the national unemployment
rate in Korea rose from 2.1 per cent in October 1997 to 8.6 per cent in 1999 as two million
people were rendered jobless. Yet, few local workers were willing to take up available 3-D
jobs and the sectors offering such jobs still suffered chronic manpower shortages
(Park 2008:7).
As Korea approached the new millennium, it became increasingly difficult to ignore
the fact that the country had developed a long-term need for a low-skilled foreign
workforce. In response, the Korean government launched the Industrial Trainee Scheme
(ITS), a migration-for-training programme, in 1994. The scheme borrowed heavily from
Japan’s own Training Programme and reflected that programme’s policy position of not
acknowledging entrenched demand for low-skilled migrant labour, instead opting to
manage the entry and residence of low-skilled foreign nationals under a non-worker status.
The ITS allowed SMEs with less than 300 employees to take on foreign nationals strictly
as “trainees” for two years (Amnesty 2009:7). The recruitment and placement of trainees
was overseen by the Korean Federation of Small Businesses (KFSB, also known as KBiz)
and carried out mostly by private agencies, both in origin countries and at destination in
Korea, or smaller employers’ associations. Initially, trainees were contracted for one year,
but the training duration was later extended to two years as domestic labour shortages
became entrenched and the sectors covered by the programme expanded (Park 2008:7).
However, since under the ITS foreign participants were not legally recognized as workers
and attributed instead the precarious and unclear status of “trainee”, it became clear that
the ITS was propagating human and labour rights violations: employers began to take
liberties with their trainees’ wages, working hours and social and occupational protections.
The ITS was also seen as perpetuating a pattern of legal trainees becoming irregular
migrant workers, as trainees fled exploitative working conditions and employers.
Moreover, since the ITS produced the perverse effect of irregular migrant workers being
paid higher wages than legal ITS trainees (Park 2008:16), many trainees made the rational
decision to become irregular. Many ITS trainees simply felt compelled to overstay their
For more information on the migration history of the Republic of Korea up to the present day, see
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 38 No. 3, 2012
See Korea Ministry of Justice, “The First Basic Plan for Immigration Policy: 2008-2012”,
Ministry of Justice of Korea, 2008, p. 14
4 International Migration Papers No. 119
trainee visas in order to be able to repay the debts they had incurred as a result of paying
exorbitant fees to their private recruitment agencies, either at home or in Korea, for the
purposes of participating in the ITS. Some foreign trainees had dispensed as much as
10,000 USD (Park 2008:15).
With calls for reform to Korea’s labour migration policy mounting, the Korean
Government started installing several modifications to the ITS. In the first round of
changes, trainees had the possibility of transitioning to full worker status for one year after
two years as a trainee. Then, in June 2002, trainees could gain worker status and a valid
work contract for two years after one year as a trainee. However, these measures did little
to bring down the alarming numbers of undocumented foreign workers; if anything, the
ranks of the undocumented grew. By 2002, the year of the latest round of reforms,
undocumented migrants accounted for a staggering 80 per cent of all foreign workers in
Korea, and the ITS was identified as the biggest contributor to this undesirable state of
affairs (Park 2008:8). As far back as 1994, when the ITS was first launched, critics had
already identified that the main problem with the scheme lay in its inability to grant the
participating migrants a stable and recognized legal status as workers: “The problem with
the trainee system is its false pretensions. It is employment in undesirable jobs, not
training, that is the real purpose….”. (Abella, Park and Bohning 1994: 36).
Fig. 1: Numbers of undocumented workers under ITS relative to total numbers of migrant workers
Source: MOEL 2010
Finally recognizing that the fundamentals of the ITS were deficient and that the entire
scheme was unsustainable, the Korean Ministry of Labour (now the Ministry of
Employment and Labour, MOEL) introduced the Employment Permit System (EPS),
Korea’s current temporary labour migration scheme for lower-skilled professions, in 2004.
The EPS completely replaced the ITS in 2007. As a result, now all lower-skilled migrant
workers coming into Korea come through the EPS and are granted the legal status of
worker, in theory benefiting from all the national labour laws, regulations and protections
to which Korean workers are entitled.
Cited in Park, Young-bum, “Admission of Foreign Workers as Trainees in Korea,” ILO Asian
Regional Programme on Governance of Labour Migration Working Paper no. 9, ILO regional office
for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok: ILO, 2008, p.19
International Migration Papers No. 119 5
II. The EPS – What it is and how it works
The EPS Act of 2003 codifies the main policy thrusts and procedural aspects of the
EPS. The scheme is quite ambitious in its sectoral scope, the time allotment it grants to
participating migrant workers, and the different nationalities it has incorporated into the
scheme over time. As previously highlighted, it is built on government-to-government
bilateral agreements between the government of Korea and the governments of selected
origin countries. These agreements stipulate that the recruitment, selection and placement
of workers under the scheme would be managed entirely by government ministries in
charge of labour migration—or entities affiliated with the relevant ministry—of the two
So far, Korea has signed MOUs with 15 origin countries in the framework of
the EPS: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Myanmar,
Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Viet Nam and
Uzbekistan. As of August 2012, there were a total of 188,000 workers from these 15
countries formally working in Korea as EPS E-9 visa-holders (MOEL, 2012).
The recruitment process for the EPS begins each year with the Korean government
issuing quotas for that year on the number of migrant workers that will be accepted from
each of the fifteen EPS sending countries and for each sector (manufacturing, construction,
agriculture, services, and fisheries). The quotas are set by the Foreign Workforce Policy
Committee (FWPC), a high-level inter-ministerial body under the Office of the Prime
Minister whose members include the vice ministers from the Ministry of Finance and
Economy, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Industry and
Energy, and the Ministry of Employment and Labour. The agenda of the FWPC is set, in
principle, by the Foreign Workforce Employment Committee (FWEC), a tripartite-plus
body set up under the MOEL chaired by the Vice Minister of Labour and with
representatives of the Korean government, workers, employers and civil society as
members. The FWPC also deliberates on which countries to add to—or, on rare occasions,
to suspend from
—the list of EPS origin countries (Yoo 2007:69-70). The quota for E-9
workers peaked at 72,000 in 2008 but is generally kept below 50,000. It was vastly
reduced to 17,000 in 2009 following the 2008 financial crisis (Table 1). For 2012, the
China is the one exception to this policy. The Korean government was unable to conclude a MOU
with the Chinese governmental organ that deals with labour migration and instead signed a bilateral
agreement with China’s Ministry of Commerce. Park, Hyeong-ki, HRD Korea, RE: RE: RE:
EPS질문 몇가지...” 2 April 2012. Email interview.
Countries participating in the EPS can be suspended if they violate any part of the MOU signed
with the Korean government, such as allowing, in any way, infiltration of the EPS recruitment
process by private agents or if a noticeably high percentage of their nationals become irregular
migrants in Korea. The participation of Viet Nam was suspended temporarily following a decision
by the FWPC that there were too many Vietnamese irregular migrants in Korea. See
6 International Migration Papers No. 119
Korean Government raised the quota for E-9 workers to 57,000,
and the quota for 2013
was set at 62,000
(Table 1).
Table 1: Foreign workers quotas by status and year
79 000
18 000
105 000
109 600
132 000
34 000
34 000
48 000
62 000
25 000
14 300
34 750
49 600
72 000
17 000
34 000
48 000
62 000
Ethnic Korean
3 700
38 050
60 000
60 000
17 000
38 000
32 200
Source: MOEL, 2013 et al.
The majority of the quotas each year, roughly 83 per cent, are allocated to the
manufacturing sector
as demonstrated in Table 2.
Lee, Sun-Young, “South Korea raises quota for foreign laborers in 2012”, The Korea Herald,
12/30/2011. Published in the The Jakarta Post.
Baruah, Nilim. “Trends and Outlook for Labour Migration in Asia”. ILO presentation given at the
3rd ADBI-OECD-ILO Roundtable on Labour Migration in Asia: Assessing Labour Market
Requirements for Foreign Workers and Developing Policies for Regional Skills Mobility. 23-25
January 2013, Bangkok, Thailand.
Jang, Jungseo. MOEL presentation given 12 December 2011, “Employment Permit System in
Korea: Recent performance and challenge for the future”. ILO-Korea Destination Countries
Meeting on the Effective Governance of Labour Migration. 12-13 December 2011, Seoul, Republic
of Korea.
International Migration Papers No. 119 7
Table 2: Numbers of EPS workers by sector and visa category (2007 2011)
40 000
1 600
4 500
1 750
48 000
40 000
1 600
4 500
1 750
48 000
(latter half)
28 100
1 600
3 100
1 100
34 000
28 100
1 600
3 100
1 100
34 000
(early half)
19 500
1 600
2 000
24 000
19 500
1 600
2 000
24 000
13 000
2 000
1 000
17 000
10 000
5 900
1 000
17 000
23 000
2 000
6 000
2 000
1 000
34 000
60 800
6 000
4 000
72 000
16 000
12 000
30 600
1 000
60 000
76 800
18 000
31 000
5 000
1 200
132 000
42 100
4 400
1 900
1 000
49 600
27 200
10 500
20 400
1 700
60 000
69 300
14 900
20 600
3 600
1 200
109 600
Source: MOEL cited in Yoo 2011
After the quotas are decided and issued, the sending governments organise the
application process for candidate EPS workers whilst the Korean MOEL handles the
application process for eligible Korean employers. In order to be considered for the EPS,
all potential migrant workers are required to pass a Korean language proficiency test
(TOPIK), in addition to satisfying other country-specific criteria, such as age or education
The testing and the processing of the test results take place in the sending
countries under the control of that country’s labour migration authorities. The governments
of the origin countries then each compile a roster of candidates that have met all the
requirements for employment in Korea. These lists are transmitted to the MOEL. Access to
the rosters is only granted by the Korean authorities to employers or companies in Korea
that have received the employment permit from which the entire system derives its name.
As of 2010, candidates on the list can present themselves and their Korean speaking
abilities to potential employers through a video that is also transmitted to the MOEL and
then employment centres in Korea. Human Resources Development Korea (HRD Korea), a
public recruitment agency within the MOEL that is mandated to manage the EPS at the
level of on-the-ground implementation, maintains a physical presence in each of the EPS
sending countries through a liaison office, in order to monitor the recruitment process and
In all EPS sending countries, applicants are required to have at least a high school diploma. A few
sending countries require applicants to possess a tertiary education certificate or degree in order to
qualify for the EPS.
8 International Migration Papers No. 119
prevent fraud as well as to offer technical assistance to sending governments where
Table 3: E-9 workers by sector of employment and country of origin (2004 May 2011 cumulative)
of origin
6 341
6 627
3 416
3 522
6 502
3 092
9 918
Sri Lanka
24 982
25 566
5 224
1 042
7 228
30 421
2 298
33 612
1 050
1 105
22 414
24 158
8 057
9 166
5 306
5 785
39 327
1 178
40 714
36 958
4 157
2 127
43 271
12 610
12 838
Viet Nam
63 547
5 034
7 768
77 066
266 299
12 530
16 449
5 444
301 066
Source: Ministry of Justice Korea and MOEL, cited in Yoo 2011
Meanwhile, in Korea, local public employment service agencies administer and
collect applications for the employment permit from eligible Korean employers and small
businesses before forwarding them to the MOEL. The MOEL will then process the
applications, make the final decisions and issue the employment permits to the selected
employers. In order to qualify for the employment permit, the applicant employer or
company must have no more than 300 employees (although it appears that on rare occasion
this requirement is waived) and demonstrate that he or the company has attempted to fill
vacancies with domestic workers for seven days and failed.
Employers that are granted
the permit can then examine the qualifications of individual workers, consult any auxiliary
information on the workers, such as the video clips, and select workers from the rosters.
Once employers select their future employees, an employment contract is drafted. The
terms of the contract are inspected by the MOEL to verify compliance with Korean labour
laws before being delivered for signature to the worker(s) through the HRD Korea liaison
MOEL interview, 11 December, 2013, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
For employers or companies that have also advertised vacancies through print or radio broadcast
media, the requisite time to look for domestic workers is 3 days. For employers or companies that
have neither advertised nor received a notification from the MOEL, they must search at least 1
month for domestic workers before resorting to the EPS application process. Usually, the MOEL
notifies companies likely to need an employment permit for hiring migrant workers. Yoo, Kil-sang,
“Evaluation on the First Three Years’ Performance of Korea’s Employment Permit System,” Korea
University of Technology and Education, 2007, p. 73
International Migration Papers No. 119 9
office in the country of origin.
Governments of EPS sending countries are responsible for
organising pre-departure training for the accepted EPS workers before their departure to
Korea. The Korean Ministry of Justice handles all matters related to immigration
regulations and the issuing of the requisite visa to each selected worker. Workers only
arrive in Korea after each step of this rigorous recruitment and selection process has been
Before the workers are formally received by their respective employers, they are
further trained by employers’ associations representing the various sectors covered by the
EPS. For example, KBiz provides training for three days for EPS workers selected for
manufacturing jobs; the National Agricultural Cooperatives Federations (NSCF) does
likewise for agricultural EPS workers.
The Construction Association of Korea (CAK)
and the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives (NFFC) are also involved in pre-job
training as well as in post-placement follow-up of EPS workers (Yoo, 2007). Post-
admission training is mandatory and covers an additional two hours on Korean language,
two hours on Korean culture and customs, six hours on Korean immigration, labour and
grievance procedure laws, and six hours on industrial safety and skills.
The MOUs that form the basis of the EPS commit the Korean government to
protecting the rights of EPS workers “in accordance with the related labour laws of
In addition, Article 22 of the EPS Act and Article 5 of the Labour Standards Act
prohibit discrimination against migrant workers and protect their basic human and labour
rights. The human rights institutions and channels enjoyed by Korean nationals, such as the
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and its complaints mechanisms, are also
accessible to migrant workers according to the terms of the EPS.
In order to ensure that
these legal protections effectively cover EPS workers, HRD Korea maintains 36 Foreign
Workforce Support Centres throughout Korea where EPS workers can lodge complaints or
grievances against employers, receive labour consulting services free of charge, and enrol
in Korean language and culture classes. HRD Korea opened a Foreign Workforce
Counselling Centre in July 2011 to provide counselling services to EPS workers through
To the extent possible, the contracts that are communicated to the selected EPS workers are
drafted in the workers’ native languages as well as in English and Korean. Government staff of
sending countries are responsible for verbally explaining the terms of the employment contracts to
each migrant worker before he or she leaves the country of origin. Park, Hyeong-ki, HRD Korea,
“ RE: RE: EPS질문 몇가지...”,21 Feb. 2012.
Korea Federation of Small Businesses (KBiz) presentation. “The Present Status of Foreign
Worker EPS Employment Training”, 13 December 2011
Of note, this arrangement may only apply to KBiz’s training module for manufacturing workers.
The author was unable to retrieve similar data for the other two major post-admission training
Taken from MOU signed between the Ministry of Labor of Korea and Ministry of Labour and
Transport of Nepal, para. 13 subpara. 1: “The MOLTM and the sending agency will ensure that all
workers observe all laws of Korea including the Foreign Employment Act and the Immigration
Control Act. The MOL and receiving agency will protect foreign workers' rights in accordance with
the related labor laws of Korea”.
Park, Hyeong-ki, HRD Korea, “ RE: RE: EPS질문 몇가지...”, 21 Feb. 2012.
10 International Migration Papers No. 119
either telephone or in-person visits with interpretation provided in 10 different languages.
The public agency also organises regular cultural events, often in collaboration with civil
society organisations and local governments or bodies, in order to facilitate migrant
workers’ integration and adjustment into Korean society as well as to educate the wider
Korean public of the cultural backgrounds of the EPS workers. HRD Korea gives each
EPS worker a “Help Call” within three days of the worker’s arrival to Korea and is
responsible for monitoring and labour inspections of workers’ workplaces and for
generally following-up with the worker in all matters related to social protection and
industrial relations.
Workers and employers participating in the EPS are required to subscribe to an
insurance package particular to the programme. The package consists of four different
types of insurances—Departure Guarantee Insurance, Return Cost Insurance, Casualty
Insurance, and Wage Guarantee Insurance. The insurances are operated by private
insurance providers but not completely independent from HRD Korea.
Employers must
subscribe to the Departure Guarantee Insurance and the Wage Guarantee Insurance while
EPS workers must subscribe to the Return Cost Insurance and the Casualty Insurance.
Employers make a monthly deposit amounting to 8.3 per cent of the worker’s salary into
the Departure Guarantee Insurance, and, as its name suggests, it can only be claimed by the
worker just prior to his departure from Korea or when changing his workplace. The Wage
Guarantee Insurance guards against overdue wages up to two million Korean won
(approximately USD 2,000); the worker can have access to the sum accrued under this
insurance by filing a claim for unpaid wages and once that claim has been verified by the
MOEL. The Return Cost Insurance covers the cost of return and readjustment back to the
worker’s home country and represents an incentive for the workers to go back upon
completion of the EPS instead of overstaying his or her work permit in Korea. As such, it
is meant to be claimed by the worker when she leaves Korea at the expiry of her visa (or
before). The worker is eligible to claim this insurance even if he or she is deported. Finally,
the Casualty Insurance covers non-work related injuries, disease, disability or death and
can be claimed by either the worker or her family after the insurer validates the claim
through an investigation.
As part of the EPS, all migrant workers qualify for coverage under the Korean
national health insurance, occupational accident insurance, employment insurance and the
pension scheme at the same level as Korean workers. All EPS workers are obligated to
purchase the national health insurance and the occupational accident compensation
insurance. However, they may opt out of participating in the national pension scheme, and
Jang, Jungseo. MOEL presentation given 12 December 2011, “Employment Permit System in
Korea: Recent performance and challenge for the future”. ILO-Korea Destination Countries
Meeting on the Effective Governance of Labour Migration. 12-13 December 2011, Seoul, Republic
of Korea.
HRD Korea presentation. “Protection of Migrant Workers in Korea”. 12 December 2011. ILO-
Korea Destination Countries Meeting on the Effective Governance of Labour Migration. 12-13
December 2011, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
There is a branch within HRD Korea which follows the implementation of the insurance scheme
and staff from the private insurance providers are seconded to the HRD Korea office in Seoul.
HRD Korea presentation. “Protection of Migrant Workers in Korea”. 12 December 2011. ILO-
Korea Destination Countries Meeting on the Effective Governance of Labour Migration. 12-13
December 2011, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
International Migration Papers No. 119 11
the purchase of the employment insurance, which covers for periods of unemployment, is
also left to their choice.
Workers are able to change their workplace and employer if they encounter poor or
exploitative working conditions or abuse. When the EPS was first launched, migrant
workers were permitted to change workplaces or employers up to three times in three
years, and only after receiving the permission of the Minister of Justice
and their
Upon leaving a workplace, a worker had two months to find another job. If the
EPS worker changes workplace beyond the permitted three times, leaves the workplace
without the permission of the employer, or fails to find new employment within the
allotted two-month period, his or her status would become irregular and liable to arrest,
detention, and deportation. This policy was heavily criticised by human rights
organisations and civic groups, all of whom evaluated it to cause unnecessary harm to both
migrant workers and Korean society: EPS workers fell into irregularity or tolerated poor
working conditions to the detriment of their health, at which point civil society or local
governments would often be forced to bear the financial and non-financial burdens related
to the workers’ care. As a result, the Korean government extended the time permitted for
foreign workers to search for a new position after leaving a workplace to three months and
announced that from June 2012, the policy limiting workplace changes will be dropped.
EPS workers are now, in principle, allowed to change their workplace however many
number of times needed without the permission of the employer if they experience
discrimination at work or if their employer violated domestic labour laws or breached
terms of the employment contract and work conditions.
The EPS permits migrant workers to work in Korea for three years. At the same time,
employers may renew workers’ contracts two more times beyond the three-year limit, so
that, in effect, migrant workers can reside in Korea for up to four years and ten months
(why this is not rounded up to a full five years will be explained in greater detail further
on). After this length of time, migrant workers are expected to return permanently to their
home countries, unless the employer makes a special request to have the same worker, in
which case EPS workers can re-enter Korea after spending six months in their home
countries. Nevertheless, they are required to undergo the recruitment process again.
However, like the rules related to job change restrictions, the requirements for rehiring
migrant workers and the ability of migrant workers to circulate have been eased. From July
2012, migrant workers who have returned home upon expiry of their E-9 visa and whom
employers wish to rehire may return to Korea after only three months away and without
needing to undergo the application and testing process for new EPS hires.
At the same
time, only EPS workers who have worked continuously with the same employer for at least
one year, and thereby considered a “diligent worker”, are eligible for this option, and, as
Park, Hyeong-ki, HRD Korea, “ RE: RE: EPS질문 몇가지...” 21 Feb. 2012. Email interview.
See Artcle 25 of the EPS Act and Article 21 of the Immigration Control Act.
Only in cases where the reason for the worker’s inability to stay at a designated workplace was
beyond his control—for example, if the company undergoes bankruptcy or factory closure, or
suffers damages as a result of force majeure—was the worker permitted to change workplaces
without the permission of the employer and without having that change count against his three
Lee, Tae-hoon, The Korea Times, “Korea to ease visa rules for migrant workers”, Jan. 2, 2012.
Kim, Rahn, The Korean Times, “Rules on rehiring migrant workers eased”. Jan. 2, 2012.
12 International Migration Papers No. 119
already mentioned, the right of initiative lies with the employer, even if it is generally
understood that the employer must have the consent of the worker to bring him back to
Korea. In principle, if the worker would rather return permanently back to her home
country, the Korean employer must acquiesce to this decision.
Costs and arrangements for EPS workers’ housing and meals are meant to be
negotiated between individual workers and their employers. There is no obligation under
the EPS for employers to provide accommodation or food to workers free of charge.
However, in the understanding of HRD Korea, in practice, most employers provide for
their foreign workers’ housing and at least one meal each day and absorb the associated
Return, reintegration and co-development
Originally, the migration trajectory of the EPS was considered complete after the
migrant worker returned back to his or her home country. In order to prepare EPS workers
for their eventual and inevitable departure, HRD Korea corresponds with both the foreign
worker and his or her employer from six months prior to the departure date. Migrant
workers are provided with information on how best to resettle in their home countries, the
available resources to re-enter the labour market upon return, as well as seminars and
educational programmes organised by HRD Korea on the subject.
Three months prior to
the worker’s official last day in Korea, HRD Korea reaches out again to the worker and his
employer to check that everything is in order ahead of the worker’s return.
In a recent development, however, the Korean government has added a reintegration
and co-development component to the EPS, which is reflective of the country’s recent
formal transition to an OECD-member donor country and, therefore, its heightened interest
in issues of migration and development. The “Happy Return Program” facilitates the long-
term employment or business start-up plans of EPS workers upon their return. Migrant
workers who decide to participate in the programme receive training and consultation
services even before their departure at the various support and counselling centres operated
by HRD Korea. MOEL Employment Centres provide various educational and training
programmes to returning migrant workers. The programmes are organised by EPS origin
country – i.e., the participants in each organised session are from the same country and
give participants information on how to successfully reintegrate in the particular context of
their countries. Programme organisers from the MOEL try to feature former EPS migrant
workers who have successfully reintegrated to share their stories. HRD Korea also
publicises information about the proper return and reintegration procedures on public
transport in areas with high-concentrations of EPS migrant workers.
HRD Korea has signed agreements with 34 vocational training institutes throughout
the country to provide courses to EPS workers in the professions of beauty care, computer
maintenance, automobile maintenance, welding, excavation operations and Korean
language interpretation. Currently, all the courses are held on Sunday to accommodate
migrants’ work schedules. In addition to these vocational courses migrant workers can also
receive consultations on how to start and operate their own business. HRD Korea is
Park, Hyeong-ki, HRD Korea, “ RE: RE: RE: EPS질문 몇가지...” 2 April 2012. Email interview.
Park, Hyeong-ki, HRD Korea, “ RE: RE: EPS질문 몇가지...” 21 Feb. 2012. Email interview.
Interview with MOEL, 11 December 2013, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
International Migration Papers No. 119 13
managing a pilot version of this aspect of the Happy Return Program in Vietnam to explore
the possibility of implementing it in EPS origin countries for migrant workers who have
already returned.
The Happy Return Program also comprises activities undertaken in sending countries
in cooperation with national government counterparts in these countries and with support
from relevant international organisations, such as ILO and IOM. Most significantly, the
MOEL and HRD Korea assist returning EPS workers in finding employment in their home
countries through an online job-matching platform that connects former EPS workers with
Korean employers or companies operating in the worker’s home country.
The service
allows EPS workers to apply for, receive and print out a career certificate verifying their
work experience in Korea and then to apply as a job seeker on the platform. Likewise,
Korean employers and companies can upload job offers, and HRD Korea facilitates contact
by both parties. As the numbers of returning EPS workers grow, HRD Korea is also taking
an increasingly proactive approach in organising them into returnee communities and
encouraging networking amongst and within returnee communities for the benefit of newly
returning former EPS workers.
And, as previously mentioned, HRD Korea has launched
and is expanding job fairs in various sending countries targeting returned migrant workers
from Korea.
The EPS has evidently evolved since its inception ten years ago. It has gone from a
closed labour migration system with a defined beginning and end (as far as Korean
government involvement in the process is concerned) that is centred on domestic labour
dynamics and policies to a more open-ended, flexible instrument that extends Korean
government involvement into the reintegration of migrant workers and responds to the
prescriptive elements of the migration and development discourse. Figure 2 below
summarizes the EPS in its current form.
The online service is called Operation Returnjob and can be accessed at :
HRD Korea presentation. “Happy Return Program”. 13 December 2011. ILO-Korea Destination
Countries Meeting on the Effective Governance of Labour Migration. 12-13 December 2011, Seoul,
Republic of Korea
14 International Migration Papers No. 119
Fig.2 Main steps in the EPS process
Signing of MOU with sending country
Setting of quota for E-9 workers by FWCP
TOPIK and drawing up job-seekers rosters
Application of Korean employers for employment permit to hire foreign workers
Matching workers with employers, signing employment contract, purchase of
Additional training before deployment to work sites
Monitoring and sojourn support by MOEL and HRD Korea
Community support (MOEL and civil society)
Return and
Happy Return Program: training to start own business or employment by
overseas branch of Korean firm
International Migration Papers No. 119 15
For a relatively young labour migration scheme implemented by a country with
almost no prior experience in this area, the EPS displays some impressive characteristics
and makes valuable contributions to the global debate on migration governance, in
particular where the system aligns with and promotes the principles, values and/or
recommendations of the ILO. In addition to the binding international standards in this area
issued through the Organisation, the ILO’s approach and prescriptions on labour migration
policy have been compiled in the ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration
(2006). The Multilateral Framework is a non-binding collection of principles, and set of
recommendations therefrom derived, meant to provide effective practical guidance to
policymakers for the construction of labour migration policies and systems compatible
with the ILO’s labour standards and the broader international human rights regime. The
Framework is, in particular, based on and largely incorporates the two ILO Conventions on
migrant workers, the ILO Migration for Employment Convention, 1949 (No. 97) and the
ILO Convention on Migrant Workers, 1975 (No. 143). The Framework propounds on and
develops a wide range of topics relevant to migrant workers and labour migration,
including decent working conditions, international cooperation on labour migration,
research and data collection, effective management of labour migration, protection of
migrant workers, prevention of and protection against abusive migration practices, social
integration, and migration and development.
I. Alignment with the ILO Multilateral Framework on
Labour Migration
It is important to note that Korea has ratified neither the two ILO conventions on
migrant workers nor the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All
Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1990), otherwise known as the UN
Migrant Workers Convention. Therefore, this paper will use the Multilateral Framework as
the main standard to assess the EPS.
The EPS is relatively strong on the principles in the Multilateral Framework that deal
with the effective management of labour migration (Principles 4-7). As recommended by
the guidelines under Principle 4—“All States have the sovereign right to develop their own
policies to manage labour migration. International labour standards and other international
instruments, as well as guidelines, as appropriate, should play an important role to make
these policies coherent, effective and fair”—the EPS was designed to give greater
transparency and clearer structure to the policies governing the mobility of foreign workers
coming in and going out of Korea, and, since the system attributes the rights held by
Korean workers to migrant workers, it generally does so in a way that benefits the migrant
workers themselves (Guideline 4.1). The EPS makes an effort to implement mechanisms
that ensure coherence between Korea’s migration and employment policies, most notably
in the form of the FWEC and the FWPC (Guideline 4.2 and Guideline 4.7). Through the
FWEC, the EPS also reflects Guideline 4.10, which calls for the establishment of tripartite
procedures. The EPS provides Korea’s labour authorities active responsibilities and “a role
in policy formulation, elaboration, management and administration” as recommended by
Guideline 4.6. And HRD Korea constitutes the “special unit for issues involving migrant
workers” encouraged in Guideline 4.8. Principle 5 supports that “Expanding avenues for
regular labour migration should be considered, taking into account labour market needs
and demographic trends”; the EPS responds relatively well to this principle. In particular,
the bilateral MOUs between the Korean government and the governments of origin
countries that form the basis of the EPS satisfies Guideline 5.3, and the MOUs’ content
16 International Migration Papers No. 119
satisfies Guidelines 5.2 and 5.5. Principles 6
and 7
relate to fruitful dialogue and
collaboration between Governments, the social partners and other extra-governmental
organisations and strongly supports the incorporation and institutionalisation of such
processes within the labour migration policy itself. The EPS largely aligns itself to these
Principles through the FWEC as well as the various activities undertaken by civil society
organisations and migrants’ associations, sometimes in collaboration with HRD Korea,
local governments or the social partners.
In recognizing that there might be space for improvement, the MOEL and HRD
Korea are investing resources and efforts into regularly researching the impact of the EPS
and collecting and sharing the migration or labour market-related data generated by the
system, in effect implementing Principle 3 of the Multilateral Framework—“Knowledge
and information are critical to formulate, implement and evaluate labour migration policy
and practice, and therefore its collection and application should be given priority”. The
data collected by the Korean government on the EPS is disaggregated by sex, age,
nationality, economic sector and more (Guideline 3.1).
The EPS also meets particularly well the recommendations under Principle 12, which
encourages that “An orderly and equitable process of labour migration should be promoted
in both origin and destination countries to guide men and women migrant workers through
all stages of migration, in particular, planning and preparing for labour migration, transit,
arrival and reception, return and reintegration”. The EPS does indeed facilitate migrant
workers’ safe departure from their home countries and adjustment into working life in
Korea through provision of information, assistance and training as called for in Guideline
12.1, and it also facilitates their return and reintegration through similar means as
recommended in Guideline 12.3. Compared to its predecessor, the ITS, the EPS represents
a simplification of administrative procedures and a reduction of processing costs
(Guideline 12.3). The system has incorporated and institutionalised the participation of
workers’ and employers’ organisations reasonably well, not simply in terms of permitting
them to work with and influence government actors but also at the level of providing
training, information and services to migrant workers (Guideline 12.4). In recent years, the
Korean government has been moving towards establishing a mechanism within the EPS
for the purpose of recognising any special skills or qualifications migrant worker
candidates may have
as encouraged in Guideline 12.6.
Also noteworthy is the integration of human rights, labour rights and social protection
concerns into the EPS. On the basis of the clause in the MOUs guaranteeing rights at the
same level as Korean workers, the EPS effectively gives migrant workers access to legal
recognition and the protections of Korea’s major labour legislation, such as the Labor
Standards Act, Minimum Wage Act and Industrial Safety and Health Act. The normative
coverage under the EPS additionally confers to migrant workers all the major instruments
of the Korean social protection system—national health insurance, industrial accident
compensation insurance, employment insurance (optional), and national pension (in cases
where the principle of reciprocity is applicable) (Yoo 2007). Principle 8 of the Multilateral
“Social dialogue is essential to the development of sound labour migration policy and should be
promoted and implemented.”
“Governments and social partners should consult with civil society and migrant associations on
labour migration policy.”
Ducanes, Geoffrey. Presentation, “Labour Shortages, Migrant Recruitment, and Portability of
Qualifications in East and Southeast Asia”, 12 December 2011. ILO-Korea Destination Countries
Meeting on the Effective Governance of Labour Migration, 12-13 December 2011, Seoul, Republic
of Korea
International Migration Papers No. 119 17
Framework states, “The human rights of all migrant workers, regardless of their status,
should be promoted and protected. In particular, all migrant workers should benefit from
the principles and rights in the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and
Rights at Work and its Follow-up, which are reflected in the eight fundamental ILO
Conventions, and the relevant United Nations human rights Conventions.” And Principle
recommends that any national labour migration policy or programme should be guided
by and incorporate all relevant and fundamental international labour standards, in
particular the Conventions of the ILO. Therefore, the EPS is relatively strong in relation to
human rights, and it has succeeded in integrating human and labour rights into its
II. Increased transparency and reduction in
undocumented migration and work
As previously noted, the defining characteristic of the EPS is its insistence on
managing labour migration solely through government-to-government arrangements, a
rarity in the region. This promotes transparency in the recruitment process and has been
shown to significantly lower costs, since the exorbitant fees charged by recruitment
brokers and agencies in source countries are irrelevant to cost calculations under the EPS.
It was found that in 2007, three years after the introduction of the EPS, the cost to the
migrant worker had decreased significantly from an average cost of USD 3,509 under the
ITS to an average USD 1,097 (Yoo 2007:101-102). Data gathered in 2011 revealed that the
average cost to migrate under the EPS had decreased further to USD 927 (Table 4).
Table 4: Average cost to migrate under ITS and EPS
Average migration cost (USD)
3 509
Source: MOEL 2011 a) average cost from May 2011
“(a) All international labour standards apply to migrant workers, unless otherwise stated. National
laws and regulations concerning labour migration and the protection of migrant workers should be
guided by relevant international labour standards and other relevant international and regional
(b) The protection of migrant workers requires a sound legal foundation based on international law.
In formulating national law and policies concerning the protection of migrant workers, governments
should be guided by the underlying principles of the Migration for Employment Convention
(Revised), 1949 (No.97), the Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 (No.
143), and their accompanying Recommendations Nos. 86 and 151, particularly those concerning
equality of treatment between nationals and migrant workers in a regular situation and minimum
standards of protection for all migrant workers. The principles contained in the 1990 International
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
should also be taken into account. If these Conventions have been ratified, they should be fully
(c) National law and policies should also be guided by other relevant ILO standards in the areas of
employment, labour inspections, social security, maternity protection, protection of wages,
occupational safety and health, as well as in such sectors as agriculture, construction and hotels and
18 International Migration Papers No. 119
It was the hope of the designers of the EPS that increased transparency in the system,
complete independence from private recruitment agencies, and the resulting lower
participation costs to the migrant would lead to a decrease in irregular migration.
According to research supported by HRD Korea, the EPS has successfully contributed to
reducing the rate of irregularity amongst migrant workers in Korea (Table 5). However,
it’s important to note that any figures in the area of irregular migration can only be
estimates at best.
Table 5: Rate irregular stay under ITS and EPS
Rate of irregular stay (%)
60 70
Source: MOEL 2011
The Korean government regularly provides technical support to governments of
origin countries and assists in trainings and workshops to build their capacities to satisfy
the conditions of the EPS at the pre-admission stage and actively monitors the pre-
admission procedures implemented in origin countries through HRD Korea liaison offices
in order to make sure there is no compromise or corruption—namely that the ‘no private
recruitment agency’ rule is not broken. It appears this strategy of prioritising the successful
implementation of the pre-admission procedures and allocating resources accordingly—
even beyond Korea’s borders—has paid off.
Although as of yet it is too early to evaluate their effectiveness, the recent change to
the system that allows migrant workers an unlimited number of times to leave workplaces
where their rights are being infringed will likely contribute to strengthening the EPS. The
ability of the worker to change workplaces should improve the protection of migrant
workers whilst also contributing to the Korean government’s efforts against forced labour.
III. Supporting the skills development and mobility of
migrant workers
The scheme’s emphasis on training is also particularly noteworthy. Korea’s Second
Basic Plan for Immigration Policy 2013-2017, much more than the First Basic Plan, gives
basis for the Korean government to implement policies to upgrade EPS migrant workers’
skills as part of its strategy to “Attract In-Demand Human Resources from Overseas”
(MOJ 2013). It explicitly paves the way for the Korean government to support employers
of EPS workers to upgrade the skills of low-skilled foreign workers (i.e., E-9 visa holders)
and socially integrate enough to qualify and obtain the E-7 visa for mid-to-high skilled
foreign workers. The E-7 visa gives greater residency and immigration status security. The
Second Basic Plan also envisions implementing vocational training programmes for EPS
workers with the express intent of giving them an avenue to upgrade their skillset.
EPS workers not only take Korean lessons in preparation for the Korean language test
but are also given further lessons after arrival in Korea as part of the post-admission
training administered by various employers’ associations and are encouraged to continue
with Korean language training during their stay in the country through the free language
lessons offered at HRD Korea’s support centres or by civil society organisations. This
degree of attention to improving the communication skills of migrant workers was not
present under the previous system, the ITS. As a result, a study of EPS workers
commissioned by HRD Korea in 2010 found that almost 90 per cent of migrant workers in
Korea communicated in Korean at their workplaces, and the Korean language skills of EPS
workers in 2010 were, overall, better than those of ITS trainees in 1998 (Lee and Kim
International Migration Papers No. 119 19
2010). While a better command of the Korean language does not necessarily lead to better
communication with employers and colleagues or to improved working and wage
conditions, it is without a doubt an important asset for workers should they ever need to
claim the rights and working conditions to which they are entitled. Likewise, an equally
rigorous attention to occupation-specific training—e.g. use of machinery, occupational
safety, etc.—is incorporated into the EPS. Migrant workers are required to undergo this
kind of training both prior to departure and after arrival in Korea. Adopting such a policy
stance is not only important but also pragmatic for a labour migration scheme that channels
its workers into mostly 3D professions with an elevated likelihood of industrial accidents.
The introduction of the Happy Return Programme into the EPS represents an
expansion of the scheme beyond meeting the immediate concerns of domestic labour
trends into the domains of migration and development. This opens up the potential for the
EPS to also serve as a vehicle for regional co-development and as the intersection of
Korea’s labour migration and foreign development aid policies. Although the Happy
Return Program is still in an early stage and still evolving, it brings the EPS closer to
satisfying Principle 15 of the Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration: “The
contribution of labour migration to employment, economic growth, development and the
alleviation of poverty should be recognized and maximized for the benefit of both origin
and destination countries”.
IV. Inclusive dialogue space
The EPS creates space for the involvement of concerned civil society organisations or
NGOs and local governments. Diverse NGOs, religiously-affiliated groups and
organisations that champion migrants’ rights work with the MOEL to protect the rights of
the EPS workers, monitor workplaces and working conditions, and bring accountability to
the system. In general, NGOs and local governments supplement the efforts of the MOEL
at the post-admission stage, offering services and practical education to migrants, such as
extra Korean language lessons or free medical check-ups. This burden-sharing
arrangement appears to first have been implemented in 2007: “From the latter half of 2007,
NGOs that have been dedicated to protecting migrant workers’ human rights will be
designated as supporter organizations and will provide services related to employment and
sojourn of foreign workers such as labour counselling, language support, medical
assistance and education counselling”. (Yoo 2007).
International Migration Papers No. 119 21
In spite of its many significant strengths, the EPS nonetheless exhibits major flaws.
Without being exhaustive, this section will elucidate the main weaknesses of the system’s
design, deemed to reduce the efficacy of the EPS. Outright threats to the future of the
system or its existence will be discussed subsequently.
I. Responding to labour shortages
One of the main objectives of the EPS, as well as a major justification for its
establishment, is to adequately address significant structural labour and skills shortages in
certain sectors of the Korean economy. However, the emerging consensus appears to be
that the system falls short in this regard. In spite of the labour market testing undertaken by
the FWPC each year, the quotas do not successfully fulfil the demands encountered by
Korean employers. For the year 2012, the FWPC set the quota for incoming E-9 workers at
an increase from 2011’s 48,000 but a figure that still fell short of the 98,000
foreign workers estimated to be needed. Domestic labour shortages in 2012 were further
exacerbated by the fact that the working visas of some 67,111 E-9 workers were set to
expire sometime during this year.
Consequently, Korean employers are, on the whole, rather ambivalent in their
evaluation of the EPS and do not consider it to be a vast improvement to the ITS. For all its
faults, the ITS bestowed greater control to Korean employers and employers’ associations
in determining the extent of shortages in their industries and the strategies to meet them. A
survey of Korean employers undertaken in 2011 under the auspices of HRD Korea
revealed the main drawbacks of the EPS from the perspective of the employers. Korean
employers were asked to rate key aspects of the EPS or issues the EPS is meant to address
on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 indicating the lowest rating/dissatisfaction and 5 indicating the
highest rating/high satisfaction (Table 6 and Table 7).
“57,000 Migrant Workers to Enter Korea Next Year”. Maeil Labour News, 30 December 2011
(in Korean), see
“Korean society ambivalent about foreign labor”. Korea Herald. 17 April 2012.
22 International Migration Papers No. 119
Table 6: Employers’ evaluation of the EPS relative to the ITS
to before
1) Transparency in recruitment
and reduction of corruption in
sending process
2) Protection of migrant
workers’ rights
3) Migrant workers’ wages and
other employment costs
4) Reducing illegal
employment and work of
5) Korean language skills of
migrant workers
6) Migrant workers’
professional skills
7) Preventing job loss of local
8) Reliability of human
resources management
Source: Yoo, 2011:26
It is important to note that over half of the employers surveyed did not respond
in the evaluation that compared the EPS to the ITS (Table 6). However, those that
did respond generally gave favourable scores to the distinguishable features of the
EPS. At the same time, the majority of respondents fell on either 3 or 4 of the 5-
point scale, evaluating the components of the EPS as either generally good or much
the same as the ITS, once again indicating that Korean employers are by and large
unimpressed by the EPS.
International Migration Papers No. 119 23
Table 7: Employers’ satisfaction level with the EPS
to before
1) Documents and
administrative processing
2) Transparency of recruitment
3) Selecting the desired and
appropriate workers
4) Information disseminated by
the MOEL/HRD on hiring
foreign workers
5) Getting the desired
employment conditions from
the standard employment
6) Content of pre-employment
7) Services dispensed by the
8) Saving labour costs on
migrant workers’ wage
9) Protection of migrant
workers’ rights
10) Reducing the likelihood of
illegal employment of migrant
11) Follow-up services for
migrant workers
Source: Yoo 2011:27
Korean employers that participated in the survey were in particular dissatisfied with
the perceived inefficiency and lengthy waiting period of the EPS’ administrative processes
as well as the system’s labour-matching capacity as Table 7 demonstrates. Given the
regularly underestimated quotas, the application process for the employment permit
becomes a veritable battleground as Korean employers compete for the few migrant
workers that will be allowed into the country and in their sector. It is not uncommon for
prospective Korean employers to start waiting outside the local Employment Centre 48
hours in advance of the official application date, and the line usually stretches over 100
The failure of the EPS to meet the real level of demand for foreign labour in the
Korean economy compounded by the difficulty of securing foreign workers and the
perceived long processing time are consequently incentivising Korean employers to hold
on to their EPS employees for as long as possible, using any means possible. Sometimes
their methods come dangerously close to violating labour standards. Many employers are
not aware of the impending expiry of their migrant workers’ visa, while others conspire to
“Farms in all-out war to ‘host foreign labourers’ ”, Yonhap News, 10 January 2012.
24 International Migration Papers No. 119
keep their migrant workers working for them even after the E-9 visa expiry date.
for regular migrant workers in Korea, it appears that the full extent of the EPS’ protections
and oversight mechanisms are underutilised, and, since in many cases, few workers or
employers are even aware of these protections, there is usually an incomplete enforcement
or a lack of enforcement entirely of the labour standards central to the EPS in spite of legal
authorisation and the requisite grounds to do so. For example, the EPS Act gives the
Korean labour authorities the ability to revoke the permits of Korean employers who
repeatedly violate the terms of the EPS and place them on a blacklist for three years
(Articles 19 and 20), but, given reports of cases of repeated and consistent infringements
on the part of employers, it is doubtful such a prerogative is being used to full
effectiveness, if at all. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that few migrant
workers report the abuse encountered at the workplace or lodge an official complaint,
preferring to put up with workplace pressures and continue working or attempt to change
workplaces (Table 8).
Table 8: EPS workers’ response to unfair treatment or abuse in the workplace (%)
Percentage of migrant workers43
Have never experienced unfair treatment or abuse at the workplace
Silently put up with bad treatment and continued to work
Officially complained to the company/employer
Informed home country embassy
Reached out to Korean civil society/religious group
Reached out to MOEL/HRD Korea
Lodged an official complaint
Tried to change workplace
Worked harder to gain better treatment
Total (%)
Total (number or participants)
Source: adapted from HRD Korea 2010:45
A survey of EPS workers working in the Gyeongin region—a region just
outside Seoul—from Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and
Mongolia commissioned by HRD Korea and taken in 2010 found that a significant
proportion of workers experience verbal abuse from Korean employers and
colleagues (Table 9). Cases of physical abuse were relatively few but exist
nonetheless. What is also worrying are the persisting cases of employers
withholding workers’ passports, which was a major problem under the ITS and
appears to not have disappeared completely with the transition to the EPS.
Aung Tinh Tung (22 December 2011). Personal interview.
The nationalities represented by the figures in this column are Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines,
Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Mongolia.
International Migration Papers No. 119 25
Table 9: EPS workers that experienced ill treatment from Korean colleagues or employer (%)
Nationality of
Type of abuse
Viet Nam
Sri Lanka
Physical abuse or
Verbal abuse and
abusive language
Body search
Restriction of
Sexual harassment
or assault
Occupational injury
Work-related illness
Confiscation of
Non-payment of
overdue wage
Source: HRD Korea 2010:46
The data from HRD Korea arranged in Table 9 above shows that after verbal abuse,
the next most frequent injurious treatment experienced by EPS workers at Korean
workplaces comes in the form of occupational accidents and diseases. The prevalence of a
far higher risk among migrant workers of suffering occupational safety and health (OSH)
hazards compared to their Korean counterparts has already been documented by the ILO.
Lee, McGuinness and Kawakami (2011) found in a study on the state of migrant workers’
OSH in five countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Korea,
that migrant workers
had higher blood-lead levels than Korean workers as well as greater exposure to urinary
methylhippuric acid, a known cancer-causing agent—0.5 per cent of migrant workers
compared to no reported case for Korean workers. The number of reported injuries
amongst migrant workers in Korea has been steadily rising in Korea year-on-year since the
EPS was implemented. In 2004, there were a total of 2,737 reported injuries; in 2009, this
figure had jumped to 5,233 (Lee, McGuinness and Kawakami 2011:12). The 2009 figure
also includes three deaths due to disease and 25 due to accidents at the workplace (Lee,
McGuinness and Kawakami 2011:13).
Apart from the dangerous nature of the jobs in which the EPS places migrant
workers—for the most part, labour-intensive and risky positions in the low-skilled
manufacturing sector—another plausible reason for the high instances of occupational
accidents amongst foreign EPS workers is the mismatch between workers’ qualifications
or capacities and the demands of the job they are given. There are reports of workers from
landlocked countries being assigned to jobs aboard fishing vessels and Muslim workers put
These countries are Australia, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand.
26 International Migration Papers No. 119
in jobs at pork processing plants.
Migrant workers who may already be in a hazardous
work environment are at even greater risk if that environment is also an unfamiliar or
culturally inappropriate one, and such cases also highlight a shortcoming in the EPS in
regards to skills matching and skills recognition. In a way, this is inevitable in the present
structure of the EPS: Korean employers in the system are not overly interested in the
qualifications of their workers since the majority of the positions they offer are those
where special skills are not particularly important (Table 10), whereas the criteria used to
select migrant workers at the pre-admission stage require a relatively high level of
education in many sending countries.
Moreover, the costs associated with participating in the EPS for the migration, while
much reduced from the ITS, are such that it’s not usually the poorer or unskilled who
become migrant workers to Korea. According to a survey undertaken in 2007, the typical
profile of an EPS worker is a young, unmarried male with at least a high school diploma
(Yoo 2007). The average age of an EPS worker was 29.7 years old. 59.1 per cent had
finished high school, and a further 20.9 per cent had received a tertiary education, meaning
that 80 per cent of all migrant workers in Korea in 2007 are highly educated (Yoo
2007:87-88). These findings were supported by a later study carried out by the Kyeongnam
Migrant Worker Support Centre in 2011 on the conditions of migrant workers employed in
the Kyeongnam province, which found that 66.5 per cent of them were below the age of 34
and the majority held above-average educational certifications. Nonetheless, EPS workers
in Kyeongnam earned only half of what their (usually less educated) Korean counterparts
made in wages.
All of this suggests that there is significant brain-waste, and perhaps even
de-skilling, taking place within the EPS and that the system itself is effectively fomenting
it. In the long-term, if the system is receiving healthy, young and well-educated workers
and sending them back irrevocably injured or no longer able to apply their qualifications or
education back home, this would negatively impact the EPS as a tool for regional
economic development.
Table 10: Character of the jobs of foreign workers (%)
Professional jobs requiring
more than university degree
Skilled jobs requiring vocational
Simple and repetitive jobs
requiring no training
Source: Yoo 2007
See Lee, Woo-young. Foreign workers given unsuitable jobs”. Korea Herald, 15 April 2012,
Choi, Sang-woon. “Low-skilled migrant workers found to be young and highly educated”,
Hankyoreh, 27 December 2011 (in Korean).
International Migration Papers No. 119 27
Table 11: Profile of EPS workers
E-9 (Foreign) Workers
Rate (%)
64 168
8 868
Below 25
21 161
25 29
20 772
30 34
18 015
35 39
11 013
40 49
2 017
50 59
Average age
Marital status
48 040
24 996
Elementary school
5 011
Middle school
9 612
High school
43 142
7 719
Graduate school and higher
7 552
73 036
Source: Yoo 2007
The brain-waste and de-skilling that is occurring within the EPS also represents a
considerable opportunity cost to Korea as a whole. Given the qualifications and education
of the majority of EPS migrant workers, clearly these workers could contribute more to the
Korean economy and Korean society if given the opportunity. Moreover, the Ministry of
Justice (MOJ) of Korea is actively pursuing a policy of recruiting foreigners with high
educational achievements and skills into the country (MOJ 2008). Many of Korea’s
migrant workers under the EPS are already at the level of education desired by the MOJ
and many more can reach that level relatively easily with additional education or training
in Korea. Unfortunately, the EPS is not flexible enough at this point to fulfil this potential.
It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for migrant workers under the EPS to change
their status after completion of the EPS, whether to that of a student, investor or business
owner, or to pursue other professions for which they are qualified. This limited labour and
professional mobility essentially constitutes a socio-economic inefficiency—due to the
waste of skills—and therefore a weakness in the EPS.
Moreover, the MOJ, which oversees matters related to immigration policy in Korea,
indirectly admits that the Korean labour market is characterised by a shortage of mid and
high-skilled labour due to the continuing departure of mostly skilled and educated Koreans
from both the country and their Korean citizenship (MOJ 2008:4). One can infer from this
that the EPS struggles to meet its full calling precisely because those who operate or
benefit from the system do not even consider using it to answer Korea’s labour shortages
in mid-level skilled occupations and sectors. Up until present, the main agents and parties
have used the EPS to cater exclusively to low-skilled occupations and sectors in Korea, but
as the Korean labour market has evolved over the years, with labour shortages no longer
uniform or limited, this inflexible approach has made the system itself unresponsive to
these changes in domestic labour demand.
28 International Migration Papers No. 119
II. Enforcement of national norms and effective
A HRD Korea-commissioned survey from 2010 has exposed evidence of violations of
contractual terms within the EPS. The study suggests this is not an uncommon or isolated
problem. As Table 12 below illustrates, these violations cover terms related to working
time, wages, recess, payment for meals, accommodation arrangements and the specific
duties to be undertaken by the worker. Here, once again, there is little indication that the
enforcement mechanisms provided by HRD Korea and the MOEL for the precise purpose
of preventing these kinds of infringements and abuses are being sufficiently applied.
Table 12: Infringement of contract terms encountered by EPS workers
Workers’ nationality
Viet Nam
Sri Lanka
Cases of contract
Total (participants)
Working hours
Overtime pay
Day of payment
Rest time
Meal pay
Workplace location
Total participants
Source: HRD Korea 2010:47
In effect, this lack of enforcement and monitoring of the relevant laws included in the
EPS’ structure, manifest in the lack of sufficiently strong or sufficiently frequent sanctions
against violating employers, diminishes the effectiveness of the EPS and is bringing about
the unintended consequence of channelling migrant workers into workplaces that are
uncompetitive in relation to OSH standards and into the hands of unqualified or
incompetent business managers and employers. Ultimately, a continuation of this trend
would bring greater burden to the EPS bureaucracy as the number of workers needing to or
having grounds to change workplaces increases. Perhaps in response to this prospect ahead
of implementing the new policy allowing for an unlimited number of requests for
workplace change by the migrant worker, the MOEL announced that starting from August
2012 its Employment Centres would no longer give information to migrant workers on
available positions and employers from which workers could choose to switch, as was the
practice in the past. Instead, an EPS worker seeking to change his workplace would have
his name and information put into a large pool of other migrant jobseekers, from which
Korean employers would be making the selection(s).
This arrangement would effectively
diminish the ability of the migrant worker to choose as well as his protections from sub-par
working conditions, thereby increasing his vulnerability. The modification of the policy
Interview with a representative of the Korea Trade Union Confederation (KTUC), 10 December
2013, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
International Migration Papers No. 119 29
limiting workplace changes is exemplary, both for the protection of migrant workers’
rights as well as for the health of the EPS as a whole, but the accommodation made for the
employers and the government bureaucracy may have introduced yet another weakness to
the system. Such patterns of taking one step forward only to fall two steps back could only
prove to be detrimental in the long-term.
III. Lack of awareness among migrant workers
The international community often lauds the EPS, and rightly so, for its conferment of
key rights, benefits and social protection to foreign workers at the same level as domestic
Korean workers. However, these rights, as well as the international praise for their
recognition, mean little in so long as they remain confined to paper and unrealised on the
ground. A study conducted by the NGO the Ebert Friedrich Stiftung in 2011 of 931
migrant workers (both regular and undocumented) working in various regions of the
Republic of Korea (Seoul, Incheon, Kyeonggi, Chungcheong, and Kyeongsang) found that
a significant number of migrant workers in Korea were unable to realise their rights or
claim their rightful benefits. The report determined that rather than due to intentional
obstruction on the part of government or other parties, the main reason for this situation lay
in the lack of awareness amongst EPS workers. In spite of the pre-departure and pre-
employment training on their labour rights and benefits the foreign workers undergo, too
many migrant workers in Korea are unaware of how to use the various insurances and
national social coverage systems that are part of the EPS or that they are eligible to do so.
Thirty-six per cent of the migrant workers involved in the Ebert Friedrich Stiftung study
declared they didn’t know if they had the Return Guarantee Insurance, 52 per cent did not
know where to go if they encountered problems regarding this insurance, and 63 per cent
were unaware of the process for claiming the benefits under this insurance.
This situation appears to be the case across the board for all four of the EPS-specific
insurances. Sixty per cent of migrant workers did not know if they were subscribed to the
Wage Guarantee Insurance, 73 per cent were unsure where to go if they wanted to claim
this insurance, and 71 per cent did not know the procedure to follow. What is even more
worrying is that, while 73 per cent of foreign workers in Korea are aware that they are
subscribed to national health insurance, 63 per cent do not know how to utilise it.
Therefore, in effect the EPS is struggling to sufficiently raise awareness among foreign
workers in Korea of the rights they have by mere virtue of being accepted into the scheme
and/or being on Korean territory. This is not a minor problem, considering that one of the
system’s prominent strengths and the high regard it receives hinges on its progressive
approach in the area of social protections and rights.
IV. Uneven distribution of resources
However, perhaps the greatest shortcoming of the EPS, from which all the other
weaknesses originate, is the imbalanced distribution of resources and focus among the
three stages (pre-admission, post-admission, return and reintegration) in which the social
partners—in particular the labour unions—are largely absent. It is clear that the Korean
government invests the majority of its efforts, resources and staff into the pre-admission
stage of the EPS to ensure transparency and lack of recruitment corruption in the process.
However, once the migrant worker is admitted into the EPS and arrives in Korea, the
MOEL and HRD Korea are noticeably less active in following up with the migrant
workers in relation to the terms of the MOUs that reference the guarantee of working
conditions, labour rights, industrial relations and social protection. There is some
coordination between the Korean government and local NGOs and religious organisations,
but it is unclear whether these non-governmental organs are involved as partners to the
government in the operation of the EPS. In general, this does not seem to be the case and
30 International Migration Papers No. 119
could reflect a potentially worrying situation where higher NGO and private individuals’
involvement indicates a failure of Korean public services and MOEL to fill protection or
service-provision gaps in the EPS.
The gaps that the system is experiencing in the post-admission stage could be easily
and appropriately remedied through the incorporation of workers’ and employers’
organisations as partners. Since these organisations have members and constituents who
are directly involved with the economy and labour market, they are in a better position
than the majority of NGOs to support the Korean government in implementing the
necessary post-admission policies and requirements of the EPS. However, beyond their
role in the FWEC in the pre-admission stage, the social partners are currently not involved
or consulted at the key level of implementation of post-admission policies. As a result,
while the EPS can be held in high regard in regards to migration governance and
commitment to migrants’ protection according to the Multilateral Framework, it scores
relatively poorly vis-à-vis the Multilateral Framework’s recommendations on social
dialogue and cooperation with the social partners (Principles 6, 7, 11, and 14).
International Migration Papers No. 119 31
I. Lack of buy-in and alienation of key stakeholders
The alienation of key social partners and even representatives of the migrants
themselves, such as migrant associations and the Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU), could be
seriously damaging to the continuity of the system. There is simply no buy-in from the
Korean labour movement, and, while employer organisations like Kbiz regularly lobby for
changes to the EPS and are sometimes heard, most Korean employers remain frustrated at
the lack of openness and responsiveness of the scheme to their positions or interests. The
Korean Trade Union Confederation (KTUC), one of the largest agglomerations of labour
unions in the country, are fundamentally opposed to the EPS, with many of its migrant
worker members calling for its demise altogether. The government-restricted MTU, which
best represents the EPS migrant workers in Korea, are also in favour of dismantling the
Evidently, this lack of endorsement—in fact, outright opposition—from
workers’ organisations and from the migrant workers themselves is a result of the absence
of official channels for consultation and meaningful cooperation between the government
and these important stakeholders. It certainly does not help that the Korean government
refuses to recognise the MTU, frequently arrests and deports members of the MTU’s
leadership, and undermines the right of migrant workers to organise into labour unions, a
right formally protected under the EPS.
The situation, on the whole, is only breeding
more ill-will against the EPS among the very people that need to perceive themselves as
stakeholders and beneficiaries in order for it to be sustainable and credible.
II. Gaps in national labour legislation
As detailed in the previous section, the EPS struggles to elicit compliance to national
labour legislation from employers and to promote healthy industrial relations. Cases of
delayed or unpaid wages, misrepresented contracts or contract violations, and verbal and
physical abuse have been extensively recorded by civil society organisations, both
domestic and international.
Since the commitment to implement these laws for the
protection of EPS migrant workers is an important element of the MOUs on which the
entire scheme is based, a lack of improvement in this area would eventually bring the EPS
into question.
At the same time, the EPS is endangered at a more fundamental level because Korea’s
national labour legislation, the very laws the scheme is designed to implement, has gaps of
its own. For example, the Labour Standards Act, the cornerstone labour legislation in
Korea, only applies to workplaces with five or more workers (Article 10). However, the
Interview with KTUC, 10 December 2013, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
The Ebert Friedrich Stiftung found, in a survey on migrant workers in Korea conducted in
preparation for a conference commemorating 7 years of the EPS, that 58.3 per cent of the
respondents indicated that the content of their contracts were violated in some way : 14.5 percent of
the workers on the terms of their wages, 15.7 per cent of workers on working time limits, 10 per
cent of workers experienced a different set of working conditions than was originally written in their
contracts, 8.1 per cent of the workers on the provision of housing, 11.4 per cent of the workers on
the provision of meals, and 14.5 per cent of the workers on the terms relating to recess and rest days
(Ebert Friedrich Stiftung 2011).
32 International Migration Papers No. 119
majority of employers and companies that are approved to participate in the EPS have less
than four employees (Table 13). The majority of companies that hire migrant workers,
therefore, are not obligated to observe the most basic labour standards in relation to
workers’ protections or working conditions. Consequently, there is a correlation between
the number of employees at a company participating in the EPS and the rate of injuries and
occupational accidents that befall its migrant workers; the larger the size of the firm (in
terms of number of employees) the lower the rate of occupational injuries among migrant
workers (ILO 2011).
Table 13: Size of firms employing EPS workers (as of May 2011)
Number of employees
Number (and %) of firms
4 or less
12 375
5 10
8 740
11 30
9 230
31 50
2 356
51 100
1 505
101 200
201 300
301 500
More than 501
Source: Yoo 2011:10
Neither the Labor Standards Act nor Korea’s minimum wage laws covers the
agriculture, fisheries and livestock breeding sectors (Article 61), and the EPS Act
explicitly excludes migrant workers in the fisheries sector from labour law protections
(Article 3), which is problematic considering that the EPS includes these sectors and these
sectors employ the largest number of migrant workers after manufacturing. As a result, the
EPS is characterised by double standards and contradictions in its implementation.
III. Post-admission gaps
Incentivising compliance from employers becomes even more complicated in light of
the fact that the EPS does not require employers to undergo orientation or training in order
to receive the permit. It is only the admitted migrant workers who are required to complete
a training regimen. It is hardly surprising then that EPS workers report being frequently
subject to abusive language and cultural insensitivity by their Korean employers and co-
The lack of attention given to monitoring the scheme at the post-admission phase in
an environment of little to no tripartite dialogue has led to arbitrary additions and
modifications to the EPS that usually aggravate the vulnerability of the migrant workers.
For example, since its inception, migrant workers employed in Korea through the EPS
were issued one-year contracts that could be renewed. This gave both the employer and the
worker flexibility and a degree of autonomy in regards to continuing or discontinuing their
working relationship. However, recently Korean employers have started issuing their
migrant workers 3-year contracts—in other words, contracts that cover the entire duration
of the EPS and make it almost impossible for migrant workers to invoke their right to job-
change (Kumara 2011). The incentive for employers to comply with EPS regulations and
labour laws is even further diminished as a result. Moreover, this specific practice of
compelling workers to sign 3-year contracts possibly violates Article 23 of the Labor
International Migration Papers No. 119 33
Standards Act—which provides that contracts shall be for one year if not for permanent or
project-specific positions—as well as Article 9 of the EPS Act.
IV. Curtailed residency and their effects on the labour
market and social integration
While, as previously mentioned, the EPS has contributed to bringing down the rate of
undocumented migration in the overall migrant population in Korea, there is evidence
suggesting that the number of undocumented migrants among EPS workers is gradually
increasing. Research undertaken by the Samsung Economic Research Institute (SERI) in
2011 found that the number of undocumented migrant workers among those admitted into
Korea on the E-9 visa rose 50 per cent from 9,153 individuals to 13,725 between the
beginning of 2008 and the end of 2010. Approximately 70,000 EPS workers’ E-9 visa
expired by the beginning of 2013, possibly adding an additional 32,000 to 45,000 migrant
workers to the ranks of the undocumented workforce (SERI 2011).
The SERI paper observed a correlation between the increase in undocumented
migrant workers and the 4-year 10-month limit of the EPS workers’ visa. The rationale
behind limiting the legal residence of migrant workers to that duration is to render it almost
impossible for EPS workers to obtain permanent legal residence in Korea, for which they
would be eligible after a minimum of five continuous years of living in the country.
However, this restriction is also contributing to a steady increase in undocumented migrant
workers, a trend which is aggravated by the fact that the EPS is silent on any facilitated
process through which EPS workers can transition to another visa type (i.e., student,
business-owner) in Korea after the expiry of their E-9 visa.
It remains to be seen whether
the new policy promoting circulation and re-employment after the expiry of a worker’s
first E-9 visa is effective in curbing this rise in irregular residence and work, but if not, the
EPS would suffer a severe blow to its long-term prospects since the system was supposed
to represent a definite solution to irregular migration in Korea.
The temporary nature of the migrant workers’ stay in Korea defines the EPS, since at
its very outset it was devised and designed as a temporary labour migration scheme.
However, this very essential and defining characteristic of the scheme threatens to render it
untenable and perhaps even unviable in the near future. In reality, EPS migrant workers are
not guaranteed the same treatment and wages as Korean workers largely because of the
temporariness of the scheme and because they are intentionally blocked from accessing
any kind of more permanent status. Since migrant workers are only allowed to work in a
position for 4 years 10 months at a time, there is very little chance that they will be
promoted to a higher paying position during that short duration and little incentive for
employers to upgrade their foreign workers above minimum-wage jobs. Consequently,
most EPS migrant workers in any given workplace in Korea will be earning less than their
Korean colleagues often even working overtime more often than their Korean
counterparts since they occupy lower positions. Arguably, in this manner, the EPS has
created situations of inequality in outcomes, which is problematic since a major
comparative advantage and raison d’être of the scheme was its guarantee of equal
treatment and non-discrimination for its participating workers.
If this deficiency in the
scheme – its lack of avenues for migrant workers to obtain longer term immigration status
The EPS allows for particularly skilled migrant workers to be given the E-7 visa, which extends
their period of residence in Korea beyond the expiry of their E -9 visas. However, this practice is not
sufficiently widespread or institutionalized to stem the effects of mass E-9 visa expiration.
Interview with a representative of the Migrant Workers Movement Supporters Group, 11
December 2013, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
34 International Migration Papers No. 119
in Korea is not addressed, the EPS, much like the ITS, could be seen as the main
contributor to rising irregular migration and racial segregation of the Korean labour market
and society and thus a target for calls to dismantle the scheme altogether.
V. Hidden costs
The EPS was meant to successfully address the financial burden experienced by
migrant workers in the form of exorbitant fees they would be obliged to pay, most often to
private recruitment agents or similar middlemen, in order to gain employment in Korea.
While the official figures recorded by the Korean government indicate that the EPS has
largely succeeded on this front, an independent survey carried out by the Ebert Friedrich
Stiftung of migrant workers in Korea who had entered the country through the EPS
revealed that a significant proportion of EPS workers had paid more than the Korean
government’s official figures on average costs and had waited over a year before being
admitted to Korea. The study found that at least 30 per cent of the migrant workers
approved to work in Korea were made to wait one year before they could depart for Korea,
and 27.4 per cent were made to wait up to 2 years (Ebert Friedrich Stiftung 2011:9). An
average of 24.3 per cent of the surveyed migrant workers paid 500-1,000 USD in costs
associated with the EPS, about 1-in-4 paid 1,001-1,500 USD, and, quite shockingly, 21.3
per cent of the workers interviewed had paid over 2,000 USD in order to participate in the
EPS (Ebert Friedrich Stiftung 2011:10). These findings may be an indication that
somewhere somehow there is involvement of unwanted actors and corrupt behaviour, the
very kind of situations that the EPS was set up to invalidate as far as labour migration to
Korea is concerned.
VI. Mixed messages and policy incoherence
As a strictly labour migration programme, the MOEL is the appropriate government
ministry to handle the EPS. While this doesn’t necessarily preclude the participation of the
Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and other key ministries, where the MOJ is involved it is
characterised by a lack of coordination with the MOEL and other government stakeholders
as well as by a negative interaction between the EPS and Korean immigration laws.
Needless to say, the approach taken by the MOJ to migration is not the same as that taken
by the MOEL, creating challenges for coherent cooperation with the MOEL in the context
of the EPS. The MOJ’s strategic and policy view of migration, which is summarised in its
First and Second Basic Plan for Immigration Policy, considers the presence of low-skilled
foreigners as potential threats to social cohesion and internal security (MOJ 2008:4). And
while the MOJ recognises, “The policy line on foreigners needs to be changed into a
“strategic opening” to tap into the talent and capital of the rest of the world” (MOJ
2008:9), there is little indication that the MOJ is aware of the above-average education and
skills levels of EPS workers or that it is considering adopting this “strategic opening”
approach to low-skilled migrant workers. As a result, the most visible manifestation of the
MOJ’s involvement in the EPS is crackdowns on factories and neighbourhoods in search
of irregular migrants in application of the Immigration Control Act. These raids have long
been criticized for their disproportionate use of force and disruption of business. Since
most migrant workers and employers don’t differentiate between different government
ministries, the MOJ crackdowns are naturally being associated with the EPS, leading
migrant workers as well as employers to question the motivations of the Korean
government and engendering much distrust of the EPS, especially amongst migrant
workers. This can only make it less and less likely that EPS workers would seek the
assistance of the MOEL or any other official actor of the system, thereby threatening the
efficacy of the EPS.
International Migration Papers No. 119 35
VII. Sectoral specifics
As demonstrated previously, the EPS is programmatically ambitious in the number
and diversity of sectors and industries it covers. Most temporary labour migration schemes
of comparable design in the region and on the global level are limited to one sector, but the
EPS attempts to secure workers for SMEs in manufacturing, construction, agriculture,
fisheries and some select service sectors. Moreover, as explained in the previous section,
these sectors are not unified by the same laws, standards or even contractual practices or
content. Contracts in agriculture and fisheries don’t guarantee minimum wage or holidays
while contracts in the construction sector are usually relayed to subcontractors. Yet, the
EPS tries to apply a one-size-fits-all framework to them all and struggles to monitor the
practices and working conditions in all five sectors.
This is leaving certain sectors susceptible to abuse of the system and the
reintroduction of the most criticised aspects of the ITS. For example, private recruitment
agencies and brokers are once more operating in the agriculture and fisheries sectors.
Unlike in the manufacturing sector, work in agriculture and fishing is predominantly
seasonal with periods where labour demand is low or non-existent and other periods where
demand spikes significantly. However, due to the architecture of the EPS, EPS workers
assigned to these sectors cannot transition, even temporarily, to another sector during
downtimes and, much like a worker that has decided to change workplaces, must find
another job in three months in order to avoid irregular status. Unlike a migrant worker
employed in manufacturing, however, the agricultural or fisheries EPS worker is usually
far from any urban centre where most of MOEL or HRD Korea’s help services and
resources are located. Consequently, private service-providers are moving in to fill the
vacuum, bringing with them the real risk that the corrupt practices of the ITS will establish
themselves again, this time at the heart of the EPS. Given the relative physical isolation of
most agricultural workplaces and fishing vessels, government officials, for the most part,
seem to be unaware of this trend. However, if the infiltration of private brokers into the
EPS becomes widespread, it would be understandably untenable to justify a scheme that
was introduced precisely to counter the effects of rampant private-sector agencies in labour
Kim, Ichan. Interview, 11 December 2011, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
International Migration Papers No. 119 37
I. Recognizing and incentivizing compliance
In spite of the many challenges and real threats facing the EPS at this critical juncture
in its development, there is plenty of room in the scheme to capitalise on the opportunities
presented by the Korean migration context to improve it. The EPS itself received an award
from the UN that recognized the gains made under the system and appears to have spurred
improvements to its design, and the Korean authorities could transfer this same model into
the scheme itself by introducing an award or recognition for outstanding firms and
employers that hire migrant workers through the EPS. The award could either be a
monetary prize or benefits to the firms’ business operations, such as tax breaks or credits,
or to the EPS application process, such as being given higher priority in the queue for the
employment permit, automatic renewal of the permit, and/or faster access to rosters of the
eligible migrant workers. The criteria should include the firm’s treatment of migrant
workers, its compliance to the terms of the MOUs that tie the labour rights and workplace
benefits of migrant workers to national legislation in the relevant areas, its compliance to
Korean legal standards of occupational safety and health, its commitment to not employ
undocumented workers, etc., and the final selection should be based on reports from labour
inspections, instances of complaints lodged by the foreign employees, instances of worker
hospitalisation, etc.
II. Inter-ministerial exchange of information and good
The MOEL and HRD Korea could partner with and learn from entities, both within
the Korean government and non-governmental, involved in multiculturalism and
multicultural family issues in Korea, whether in the capacity of policy formulation,
protection or provision of services. This should be done with the objective of explicitly
including migrant workers and migrant worker issues in the national discourse on
multiculturalism and in the process of defining the concept in the Korean context. The
Ministry of Gender Equality of Family (MOGEF), the leading Korean government
ministry on matters of international marriages and multicultural families, is already
involved in the EPS at the level of the FWPC as one of the government ministries
consulted, but there is plenty of room to expand its role and involvement in EPS
policymaking or implementation. In addition, many civil society organisations that
collaborate with the Korean government in the framework of the EPS to provide services
like language training to migrant workers in Korea also work with foreign wives and
multicultural families. This is not surprising given that the majority of foreign women who
migrate to Korea for the purposes of marriage are nationals of the same countries from
which Korea welcomes foreign workers. The statistics between the two groups in terms of
their numbers in Korea by country of origin appear to coincide almost perfectly, with the
majority of the foreign brides coming from China (34.1 per cent), Viet Nam (21.8 per
cent), followed by the Philippines and Cambodia.
It is unreasonable to think that the long-term social integration of migrant workers in
Korea won’t become a pressing item in the very near future or to assume that the existence
of the EPS somehow negates the necessity to deliberate on the topic, especially in light of
Lankov, Andrei. “International Marriages.” Korea Times, July 7, 2011.
38 International Migration Papers No. 119
the experiences of the European guestworker programmes, which share key similarities to
the EPS, and the demographic profile of the average migrant worker admitted into Korea
(young, male, and single). Therefore, it would be to the benefit of the MOEL to engage in
fruitful exchanges of information and experiences with these civil society groups on how
to incorporate family reunification rights and transition into family life into the EPS as the
scheme matures.
III. Tripartite cooperation and partnerships
While the network of local NGOs that the Korean government retains in the EPS is
quite impressive, it could always be expanded and better coordinated. Examples of local
NGOs implementing exemplary programmes and services for the foreign workers that
reside in Korea abound.
Cooperation with trade unions could also be expanded. The role of trade unions in the
current operation of the EPS is even more limited than that of the employers’ associations;
it is almost entirely limited to consultations with the FWPC in the process of deciding on
quotas of migrant workers. Cooperation with trade unions and worker organisations will
prove difficult, given the Korean government’s current position of refusing to recognise
the Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU) and the fact that the Korean Trade Union Confederation
(KTUC) seems to endorse MTU’s position on the EPS. If these strained relations and trust
deficits can be overcome, there is plenty of room in the current structure of the EPS to
allow for greater participation of trade unions in ways that will advance the scheme as a
whole and contribute toward guaranteeing its longevity. Korean trade unions, including the
MTU, have launched and are operating services and programmes for migrant workers that
are in demand but are not being adequately met by the EPS. MTU is offering reintegration
assistance, especially for migrant workers forcibly deported from Korea, and is harnessing
the development potential of labour migration to Korea by setting up community-
improvement projects and mobilising migrants in Korea around these projects. In
particular, MTU has been working toward building a school in Bangladesh.
If such
projects could be brought under the EPS and streamlined through closer cooperation with
the MTU and other trade unions, the EPS would be all the better for it, becoming a more
comprehensive and efficient labour migration programme as a result.
In this regard, inspiration could be taken from the Spanish experience with its
seasonal agricultural migration programme covering the Spanish regions of Catalonia,
Valencia and Mallorca. The agricultural employers’ association, Unio de Pagesos de
Catalunya, recruits migrant workers directly from Colombia, Morocco, Romania,
Moldova, Senegal and Mauritania, according to quotas issued by the Spanish government
and working closely with the governments of these countries of origin.
Unio de Pagesos
also collaborates with national trade unions, and the trade unions built and manage housing
for the migrant workers in the receiving villages and are proving pivotal in successfully
integrating the foreign workers into their host villages and cultivating goodwill between
them and the local population through various social integration activities and events. This
willingness to involve trade unions to such a large degree in the scheme and the
willingness on the part of both trade unions and the farmers’ association to work together
has lowered costs for employers whilst ensuring that the migrant workers’ human rights
are protected. This participatory, tripartite nature of the Unio de Pagesos scheme in Spain
has made it possible to evolve the programme into an effective conduit for co-
Interview with Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU), 12 December 2011, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
ILO-Korea Destination Countries Meeting on the Effective Governance of Labour Migration,
12-13 December 2011, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
International Migration Papers No. 119 39
development. The social partners involved in the scheme provide vocational, professional
and entrepreneurship training to interested migrant workers and support development
projects in the countries of the participating migrant workers, often in collaboration with
the migrant workers themselves.
While the Spanish seasonal migration scheme operates
on a seasonal basis, as opposed to the 3-year minimum period of the EPS, and covers only
certain regions and one sector rather than the whole country and multiple sectors, there is
clearly still much that Korean policy makers could learn from this Spanish experience and
can adapt and apply for the EPS.
Moreover, there is sufficient policy space within the EPS to explore introducing or
expanding existing vocational training and orientation components. Currently, major
employers’ associations representing each of the sectors for which the EPS recruits
migrant workers provide and administer training to the workers after their arrival and
before they are deployed to their worksites. In the case of agricultural workers, the
National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (NACF) would be interested in providing
migrant workers employed in the Korean agricultural sector further vocational training or
orientation during off-season periods. It appears the NACF would also be open to
developing and administering an in-depth orientation programme for employers, at least
those in the agricultural sector, in order to alleviate the many cultural misunderstandings
and conflicts that arise between the migrant workers and their employers.
ILO. Good practices in labour migration database. Information retrieved 2 Feb. 2013.
Hong, Gwangseong (2012, January 11). Personal interview. Geneva, Switzerland
International Migration Papers No. 119 41
The fact that the EPS has been in existence for 10 years represents a milestone for the
scheme. Given that it was devised and designed at the outset to be the Republic of Korea’s
first labour migration programme for low-skilled workers and to explicitly replace the
Industrial Trainee Scheme (ITS), its mere existence also marks 10 years since Korea has
accepted that migrant workers – and not trainees – would have to be an integral part of the
country’s economy and society. Key low-skilled sectors were suffering chronic manpower
shortages and the national population was declining. With the launch of the EPS, Korea
embarked a decade ago on a near irrevocable policy and societal shift.
In many ways, the EPS has considerable strengths that merit its decade-long
existence; it has contributed many positive practices and improvements to labour migration
governance in the Asia region. It resuscitated government-to-government arrangements,
offering a viable alternative to the abuse-ridden private recruitment agencies that so often
determine the labour migration dynamics in the region. It has significantly reduced
instances of migrant workers being trapped in fraud and debt. Instead, it has been widely
acknowledged that the scheme has promoted transparent and accountable labour migration
mechanisms and institutions.
At the same time, the scheme’s 10-year experience has exposed serious weaknesses in
its design and/or implementation, some of which may be serious enough to threaten its
long-term viability. Among them: the lack of compliance on the part of employers; the lack
of awareness of their rights and privileges under the EPS on the part of the workers; the
Korean government’s uneven focus and concentration of resources and coordination
efforts in favour of the pre-admission stage of the programme; and the lack of buy-in or
sense of ownership of the EPS among the implicated stakeholders, in particular the
tripartite partners. However, perhaps the greatest threats to the EPS is directly linked to the
scheme’s core identity as a temporary migration programme meant to address labour
market gaps that are long-term and structural. The temporary nature of the EPS seems to
be disincentivizing policies on social integration, much as it did the European guest-worker
programmes that preceded it. Korean policymakers would do well to study the case of the
guest-worker programmes since the EPS exhibit more than a few similarities with these
programmes. If Korean policymakers continue to neglect integrating social integration
mechanisms or avenues for longer residency in Korea, there is a real danger that the EPS
might reproduce the same scenario that became the unfortunate but avoidable legacy of
Europe’s guest-worker schemes: social exclusion and labour market segregation. In this
sense, the greatest threat to the inevitable multicultural Korean society of the future is not
the presence of low-skilled migrants but the absence of integration policies that accept, as a
starting point, that migrants desire and have full potential to become assets to mainstream,
domestic society.
Nevertheless, the good news and conclusion of this paper is that the EPS is built on
sufficiently sound principles, mechanisms and institutions for there to be plenty of
opportunities to improve the scheme for the benefit of all involved. There is no reason why
tripartite and inter-ministerial mechanisms as well as other kinds of partnerships in the EPS
can’t be expanded to exchange information and good practices between all the actors
engaged in migration or multicultural issues in Korea. But perhaps the greatest opportunity
that the EPS brings is to include labour migration in Korea’s maturing debate and policies
multiculturalism and seriously consider how the EPS can contribute to a truly healthy
multicultural society in Korea.
International Migration Papers No. 119 43
Amnesty International. “Disposable Labour: Rights of Migrant Workers in South Korea”.
Amnesty International, October 2009.
Aung Tinh Tung. Stakeholder interview. 22 December 2011. Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Choi, Sang-woon. “Low-skilled migrant workers found to be young and highly educated”.
Hankyoreh, 27 December 2011 (in Korean)
Ducanes, Geoffrey. Presentation. “Labour Shortages, Migrant Recruitment, and Portability
of Qualifications in East and Southeast Asia.”12 December 2011. ILO-Korea
Destination Countries Meeting on the Effective Governance of Labour Migration. 12-
13 December 2011, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
“Farms in all-out war to ‘host foreign labourers’”. Yonhap News. 10 January 2012.
Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. Survey of Employment Permit System on its 7th year anniversary.
Friedrich Ebert Stiftung: Seoul, 2011 (in Korean).
Hong, Gwangseong. Stakeholder interview. 11 January 2012. Geneva, Switzerland.
HRD Korea. Presentation. “Happy Retrun Program”, 13 December 2011. ILO-Korea
Destination Countries Meeting on the Effective Governance of Labour Migration. 12-
13 December 2011, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
ILO. ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration: Non-binding principles and
guidelines for a rights-based approach to labour migration. ILO: Geneva, 2006.
ILO-Korea Destination Countries Meeting on the Effective Governance of Labour
Migration. 12-13 December 2011, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Jung Yongsup. Stakeholder interview. 11 December 2013. Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Kim, Ichan. Stakeholder interview. 11 December 2011. Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Kim, Rahn. The Korean Times, “Rules on rehiring migrant workers eased”. Jan. 2, 2012.
“Korean society ambivalent about foreign labor”. Korea Herald. 17 April 2012.
Kumara, Pradeep. “Day in the life of a Foreign Worker in Korea.” Speech given at
Conference to evaluate the first 7 years of the Employment Permit System. 11 August
2011, 14:00-17:20, Seoul, Republic of Korea. Ministry of Labor and Employment,
Republic of Korea.
Lankov, Andrei. “International Marriages.” Korea Times, July 7, 2011.
Lee, Jeong Hwan and Suk Ho Kim. Survey on Foreign Workers’ Employment and Working
Conditions. Human Resources Development (HRD) Korea: Seoul, 2010. (in Korean)
44 International Migration Papers No. 119
Lee, Kawon; McGuinness, Connor and Tsuyoshi Kawakami. Research on occupational
safety and health for migrant workers in five Asia and Pacific countries: Australia,
Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. ILO Asia and Pacific Working
Paper Series. ILO DWT for East and South-East Asia and the Pacific. ILO: Bangkok,
Lee, Tae-hoon. The Korea Times, “Korea to ease visa rules for migrant workers”, 2 Jan.
Lee, Woo-young. “Foreign workers given unsuitable jobs”. Korea Herald, 15 April 2012.
Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU). Stakeholder interview. 12 December 2011. Seoul,
Republic of Korea.
Ministry of Justice, Korea (MOJ). The First Basic Plan for Immigration Policy: 2008-
2012. Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea: Seoul, 2008.
Ministry of Justice, Korea (MOJ). The Second Basic Plan for Immigration Policy: 2013-
2017. Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea: Seoul, 2013.
Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOEL), Republic of Korea. Stakeholder interview.
11 December 2013. Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Park, Hyeong-ki. Email interview. 21 February 2012.
Park, Hyeong-ki. Email interview. 2 April 2012.
Park, Young-bum. “Admission of Foreign Workers as Trainees in Korea,” ILO Asian
Regional Programme on Governance of Labour Migration Working Paper no. 9, ILO
Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok: ILO, 2008.
Samsung Economic Research Institute (SERI). “Current state of the Employment Permit
System and how to improve it.” SERI: Seoul, 2011 (in Korean).
Udaya, Rai. Stakeholder interview. 10 December 2013. Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Yoo, Kil-sang. “Evaluation on the First Three Years’ Performance of Korea’s Employment
Permit System,” Korea University of Technology and Education, 2007.
Yoo, Kil-sang, “Evaluation after Seven Years of Korea’s Employment Permit System,”
Korea University of Technology and Education, 2011.
“57,000 Migrant Workers to Enter Korea Next Year”. Maeil Labour News, 30 December
2011 (in Korean).
For more information visit the ILO topic portal on Labour Migration
Labour Migration Branch
Conditions of Work and Equality Department
Route des Morillons 4
CH-1211 Geneva 22
Phone: +41 (0)22 799 6667
Fax: +41 (0)22 799 8836
International Migration Papers No. 119
The Republic of Korea’s Employment
Permit System (EPS):
Background and Rapid Assessment
Min Ji Kim
ISSN 1020-2668
... In this study, several participants expressed a desire to go via the EPS due to its perceived safety. Indeed, according to an ILO report, the EPS has been recognised by the UN Public Service Award for its role in ensuring transparency and reducing corruption through its direct government-togovernment model ( Kim, 2015 ). However, the requirements, including passing a language proficiency test, mean it is only available to aspiring migrants with some minimal literacy and can invest time and money to study. ...
... In this study, several participants expressed a desire to go via the EPS due to its perceived safety. Indeed, according to an ILO report, the EPS has been recognised by the UN Public Service Award for its role in ensuring transparency and reducing corruption through its direct government-to-government model ( Kim, 2015 ). However, the requirements, including passing a language proficiency test, mean it is only available to aspiring migrants with some minimal literacy and can invest time and money to study. ...
Full-text available
Labour migration has become a crucial livelihood strategy in settings where employment options are limited. Such opportunities come with potential benefits but also introduce stressors. This study explores migration-related stressors among returnee male Nepali international labour migrants. We conducted a qualitative study in Kathmandu among 42 returnee male international labour migrants. We explored migration decisions, processes, experiences in destination and on return. The participants worked in low- and semi-skilled jobs in Malaysia, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Men reported stressors representing five broad areas: workplace/employer, family, recruitment, environment and legal. Most belonged to the workplace/employer category such as exploitative practices of document confiscation, contract discrepancies and poor working conditions. Family stressors were often due to disagreements about whether to migrate, and once in destination, being absent during illness and death in the family. Recruitment stressors were linked to the migration process and costs. Environmental stressors included over-crowdedness and poor hygiene, and poor security at the accommodation and in the wider town. Legal stressors were related to the lack of documentation, and negative encounters with the local police. Multiple stressors were often experienced simultaneously or in succession. Male labour migrants from Nepal who had worked in various countries and job-sectors reported multiple types of stress. The majority of stressors belong to the workplace category, where migrants may have limited power to challenge problems with their employers. The cumulative effect of such experiences may negatively impact on migrants’ wellbeing. Future research should explore migrants’ ability to cope with the many stressors encountered.
... The central government of South Korea introduced the Industrial Trainee Scheme (ITS) in 1994 in an attempt to improve programs for foreign workers. The Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) launched the Employment Permit system (EPS) in 2003 [54]. The objectives of the EPS were to solve the lack of labor and provide a supply of human resources for balanced development and to sustainably manage foreign workers [54]. ...
... The Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) launched the Employment Permit system (EPS) in 2003 [54]. The objectives of the EPS were to solve the lack of labor and provide a supply of human resources for balanced development and to sustainably manage foreign workers [54]. The EPS operates based on bilateral government-to-government memoranda of understanding (MOU) with 15 countries, including those shown in Table 1. ...
Full-text available
This study examines the relationship between service climate, empowerment, and organizational citizenship behavior among Vietnamese employees at restaurants in urban areas of South Korea. Moreover, the mediating role of empowerment between service climate and organizational citizenship behavior is investigated. From a sample of 209 Vietnamese respondents working in Asian ethnic restaurants, the findings indicate that work facilitation is the most influential service climate that affects empowerment. However, two service climate factors—managerial support and customer orientation—are not statistically significant. Moreover, organizational citizenship behavior among employees is enhanced not only by service climate but also by empowerment. This study provides empirical evidence of employee perceptions of service climate and of the influence of service climate on employee empowerment and organizational citizenship behavior for customer service quality. This study expands the knowledge regarding foreign employees at restaurants and provides important theoretical and practical implications for creating a sustainable work environment and empowering employees who strive for an excellent quality of customer service in the context of the restaurant industry.
... The cooperation between Vietnam and Korea is based on the Korean Employment Permit System (EPS) (Kim, 2015;Trung Tam Lao Động Ngoài Nước, 2020). According to the EPS, working in Korea includes nine major processes (1) learning Korean, (2) taking a Korean language test, (3) applying for registration, (4) being selected by a Korean company and signing a labor contract, (5) signing a dispatch Korea work contract with an overseas labor center, (6) making a deposit at a social policy bank, (7) going to work in Korea after attending a necessary knowledge training course, (8) returning to Korea on time after fulfilling the labor contract, and (9) terminating the dispatch Korea work contract and settling the escrow account. ...
Full-text available
Taiwan is one of the largest distant water fishing (DWF) nations worldwide, and relies largely on the migrant labor to keep costs low. However, this industry has caused Taiwan to be listed in the 2020 “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor” of the U.S. Department of Labor. In view of this, the Taiwanese government is actively adopting further management measures to supervise the domestic and foreign fishermen agencies. It is because the latter has been involved in many disputes, especially in recruitment, payroll, and labor contracts, which directly or indirectly affect the rights of migrant fishermen. On the other hand, although the C188 Work in Fishing Convention has stregthend the protection of the fishermen’s human rights, it still stays ambiguous in terms of private agency management. That is also why so many disputes have been caused in recent years.This study conducts a comparative analysis of the agency management systems in the primary source countries of Taiwan’s distant water fishing migrant fishermen (that is, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam), as well as interviews with distant water fishing stakeholders to provide insights on the improvement of agency management and migrant fishermen’s rights in Taiwan. The findings imply that the positive interaction, mutual trust, and understanding of laws and regulations between fishermen’s exporting and importing countries lead to future cross-national collaboration. This study suggests that the Taiwanese government should follow the spirit of the C188 but not be restricted to the Convention texts to amend or formulate regulations and policies of agencies for fully protecting the rights of migrant fishermen.
... If a sending country violates any of part of the MOU, it can be suspended from participating in the program. For example, Vietnam was temporarily suspended from participating in the EPS due to a high number of Vietnamese migrants overstaying their visa and becoming illegal workers in South Korea (Kim, 2015). ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The rapid economic growth and decrease in the fertility rate has led to decrease in the unemployment rate in South Korea since 1963. Additionally, the out-migration of native Koreans has decreased the already small labor force, and as a result, threatens to stop the impressive economic growth. With the increase in the number of foreigners in response to economic challenges, however, this ethnically homogeneous country is facing increased social tension. Social development is crucial to South Korea in obtaining an equitable society and economy, and the improvement of migrant employment conditions is directly related to social development of South Korea as foreign population increases. Legislation 6967 of Foreign Workers implemented in 2004 seems to have successfully mitigated the effects of a diminishing native labor force and also decreased the number of undocumented migrants in South Korea. As of June 2012, foreign workers accounted for 3.2% of the Korean workforce, and the program continues to bring in migrant workers in the manufacturing, construction, and service sectors. It also marks the beginning of more welcoming policies for foreigners. But these labor protection measures do not seem to be enough. As the foreign population is quickly approaching 4% today, there is a growing need for integration strategies. As the foreign population and naturalized foreigners grow, especially with high numbers of foreign brides, the government will have to work to fight discrimination against multiethnic families as well as migrant workers.