The Korea Herald

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Korea to shut down foreign worker support centers despite labor expansion

Labor Ministry to absorb role of centers, but concerns remain

By Lee Jung-youn

Published : Sept. 14, 2023 - 15:02

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Workers from Vietnam take safety and health education classes at the Changwon Support Center for Foreign Workers, in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, July 27. (Changwon Support Center for Foreign Workers) Workers from Vietnam take safety and health education classes at the Changwon Support Center for Foreign Workers, in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, July 27. (Changwon Support Center for Foreign Workers)

Even as the government recently announced its plans to increase the number of E-9 visas for workers of foreign nationality to the largest number ever next year, the institutions that directly support foreign workers' lives in Korea are set to be abolished, as next year's budget for them has been completely cut for the first time in 20 years.

According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor, there will be no government budget for the Korea Support Center for Foreign Workers for 2024. The centers fall under the Labor Ministry, and operate to help foreign workers faced with difficulties living in Korea by providing essential services such as guidance about Korea's labor laws, contracts, immigration system and insurance; interpretation in nine languages, Korean language education and other types of training; health and dental check-ups; job information and Korean culture classes.

Beginning with the opening of the first center in December 2004, the project has expanded to nine headquarters and 35 regional centers operating nationwide. The Labor Ministry has entrusted the operation of the centers to an external institution with professional experience in providing guidance and counseling.

The Labor Ministry said that although the centers will be shut down, the Labor Ministry and the Human Resources Development Service of Korea will "increase efficiency by directly supporting foreign workers."

The centers have been providing various services, particularly on Sundays, mindful that many foreign workers have to work on other days. However, if government offices take over the role that the centers have played, such services will instead be provided only on weekdays, according to insiders.

The Labor Ministry announced last month that it will expand the number of foreign workers in manufacturing, construction, agriculture and fishing industries on E-9 visas by 10,000 to 120,000 next year -- the most ever -- and double the limit on the number of foreign workers that can be employed at each workplace.

Korea's total population of foreign residents living here more than three months was 1.75 million as of last year. The estimated number of undocumented foreign national workers was a further 410,000 as of May this year.