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[Contribution] ‘Foreign workers grease wheels of Korea’s development’

Had people around the world not reached out to one another beyond their national borders, we would all be living in silos in our national communities.

Grassroots contacts among nations have given birth to innovation, progress and coexistence, all of which are increasingly imperative in driving humanity forward together.

The miraculous economic and human development the Republic of Korea has achieved over the last several decades is unrivaled the world over. It has transformed the war-ravaged nation into a democratically vibrant, economically formidable and technologically advanced powerhouse.

However, we tend to overlook the fact that much of Korea’s economic growth has been buttressed by its policies of effectively managing foreign workforce. According to a report published by the Ministry of Employment and Labor, there were more than 271,940 foreign workers in Korea from 16 countries under the Employment Permit System in December last year. 

Muhammad Shafiq Haider, counselor for community welfare and cultural affairs at the Embassy of Pakistan in Seoul (Pakistani Embassy)
Muhammad Shafiq Haider, counselor for community welfare and cultural affairs at the Embassy of Pakistan in Seoul (Pakistani Embassy)

Foreign human capital, especially of low- and semi-skilled workers, has improved Koreans’ well-being by offsetting the country’s manpower shortages. Before the Employment Permit System was introduced in 2004 alongside the E-9 visa, these individuals were issued D-3 visas to work in “3-D” jobs -- “dirty, dangerous and difficult.”

The foreign workers’ particular skill sets have removed conflicts of interest between them and Korean workers, and in turn allowed the country to invest its domestic human capital in knowledge-driven, white collar occupations. These laborers are predominantly concentrated in manufacturing, making up nearly 84 percent of the total foreign workforce.

There are more than 5,000 Pakistani citizens here working in manufacturing through the Employment Permit System.

Since July 2016, I have traveled to almost every corner of South Korea to meet with these industrious young men and their employers. It has been an extremely enlightening journey as well, as I witnessed the meticulous services for these people provided by support centers under the Ministry of Employment and Labor and Human Resources Development Service of Korea. The latter institution’s officials have always been available to provide assistance to aggrieved workers and address their complaints.

It is a matter of great pride for Pakistan that our citizens are well received in Korea’s manufacturing industry for their dedication and professionalism at some of the most difficult tasks. Our workers, especially those in Daegu and Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, have volunteered on their off-days for citizen police patrols, activities with seniors, grassroots journalistic work and translation, among other endeavors.

The Embassy of Pakistan has closely cooperated with the Human Resources Development Service of Korea to bring about tangible improvements in the welfare and vocational capability of our workers. These dedicated members of Korea’s growing multicultural society have the second lowest rate of overstaying beyond their contract dates, with only 0.3 percent of them illegally staying in the country as documented by the Ministry of Employment and Labor.

Another positive spinoff is that our workers have all been successfully reintegrated into the Pakistani society and economy upon returning from their assignments, in large part aided by the Facilitation and Reintegration Centers which are located in Pakistan’s major cities as required by the Employment Permit System.

Since the system was introduced, South Korea has come a long way in managing the successful performance of foreign workers and guaranteeing their medical care, fair wages and equal opportunities at work.

That said, I believe that it would serve both the workers and relevant agencies and departments better if they didn’t return home to see their families more than once a year. The issuance of visas for their spouses, children and other family members pose many administrative challenges.

The Korean government addressing the issue would be a step in the right direction.

By Muhammad Shafiq Haider, counselor for community welfare and cultural affairs at the Embassy of Pakistan in Seoul (