A special visa category considered to bring workers to underpopulated areas

Thai workers arrive at Incheon International Airport last December. [NEWS1]

The government is considering creating a special type of visa to bring migrant workers to less populated areas outside the greater Seoul area amid worsening labor shortages.

Korea is aging rapidly with a declining population since 2020, and the situation is particularly dire in provinces outside of Seoul.

The median age of residents of Gunwi County in North Gyeongsang was 60.8 in 2020.

These regions face a severe labor shortage, which has accelerated since the outbreak of the pandemic.

To deal with the problem, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Labor have set up a task force to deal with the demographic crisis, according to a government source.

The creation of a new visa to attract foreign workers to regions with a declining population is currently being considered as an option. For holders of the new visa, work limitations will be more relaxed than the F-4 visa, which is for foreigners of Korean descent, or the E-9 non-professional work visa.

The new visa will allow a migrant worker to reside in the region in need of labor for a period of time. The central government would issue an allocated number of visas based on data submitted by local governments.

“Foreign residents are highly concentrated in the greater Seoul area,” said Lee Kyu-yong, director of the employment policy research division at the Korea Labor Institute. “About 80% of ethnic Korean foreigners live in the region.”

Lee said that “foreign labor should be distributed to provinces with labor shortages,” adding that “rather than simply issuing visas based simply on administrative districts, matching labor -work required with local industrial complexes would be more appropriate”.

The general conditions for issuing visas will be relaxed for professionals in certain activities, such as shipbuilding.

Shipbuilding has been hit hard by labor shortages. Although business is booming, with the number of orders reaching a record high last year, the number of people taking out unemployment insurance in the industry has risen from 170,000 in 2016 to 90,000 This year.

The wage system will also be overhauled to reduce costs for small businesses.

Under the current system, E-7 professional work visa holders must earn at least 80% of Korea’s gross national income (GNI) per capita. The restriction is in place to prevent migrant workers from being underpaid, but as the figure hit 40.5 million won ($31,000) a year in 2021, local workers could be paid less than their counterparts foreigners in some of the small businesses.

Small businesses are experiencing severe labor shortages. A Department of Labor survey in the second half of last year found that small and medium-sized businesses lacked 322,000 workers.

Korea is facing a demographic crisis. Statistics Korea projects that Korea’s population will grow from 51.8 million in 2020 to 37.7 million in 2070. The labor force will drop to 17 million from 37 million currently.

“If there are enough Koreans, there’s no reason to bring in more migrant workers, but we don’t have any other options at this point,” said business professor Nho Yong-jin. at Seoul National University of Science and Technology.

“Small and medium enterprises, which have a severe labor shortage problem, need support workers, and migrant workers need to do more than just work there,” Nho said. “We can’t blindly bring in as many foreigners as possible, but we have to consider increasing the staff now.”

BY JEONG JIN-HO [[email protected]]

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