Korea’s Policy on Employing Foreign Workers in Agricultural Sector

Korea’s Policy on Employing Foreign Workers in Agricultural Sector

Published: 2020.09.22
Accepted: 2020.09.18
9
Professor
Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, College of Agricultural and Life Science, Seoul National University
Legislative Researcher
National Assembly Research Service

ABSTRACT

Korean agriculture has traditionally been maintained in the form of collaborative labor among the villagers and labor exchanges in families and rural villages. However, as economic development progresses, the proportion of family labor, joint labor and labor exchange of rural community has decreased due to the rapid decrease in agricultural workers and rural population. In particular, the decrease in population and aging trend in the rural areas have made it difficult for farmers to hire as much labor as they need in the agricultural sector. To make matters worse, after the launch of the WTO system and the signing of FTA agreements with major trading partners, the profitability of farming households has deteriorated. In response, Korean farmers have persistently demanded for foreign workers to be hired receiving lower wages than domestic workers to reduce labor costs. As a result, the Korean government introduced the employment policy for foreign workers since 2004 in the name of employment permit system and seasonal worker employment system. As of 2019, the quota for the foreign workers in agricultural sector's employment permit system was around 6,400, and more than 3,600 seasonal workers enrolled.  After the introduction of the programs of hiring foreign workers in the agricultural sector, large-scale commercial farms, such as the livestock and horticulture industries, have been relieved of the shortage of workers, but the problem of the shortage of workers at small and medium scale farms has remained.

Key words: Agriculture, Labor shortage, Foreign workers, Employment policy

INTRODUCTION 

Securing the adequate labor force in the agriculture sector has been a critical issue and an important policy task for sustainable agriculture production in Korea. In recent years, Korea has experienced the worsening of the lack of agricultural labor. This is not only because the rapid economic growth and the advancement of urbanization have led to the reduction of the number of the households in the rural area, but also because the rural population is fast-aging. As the expression of ‘the extinction of the locals’ in the media has often appeared, rural areas are losing vitality, and the supply capacity of agricultural labor is also rapidly shrinking.

The mismatch of the supply and demand in the agriculture labor market and the raise of legal minimum wage have led to wage increase in general, and this has been a big burden to the farmers on the frontline. Korean farmers have heavily relied on unpaid family labor and, as employers, lacked the experience in recruiting and managing the employees. Therefore, the Korean farm owners have limited ability to respond quickly to the changing situation in the agricultural labor market.

In the process of economic development and urbanization, the role of foreign workers in Korea's agricultural production activities has become important due to a decrease in agricultural labor and higher wages. The Korean government has adopted policies to bring in foreign workers as to solve the problem of structural labor shortage in the agricultural sector. Currently, there are two legal ways for foreign workers to be employed in the agricultural sector in Korea – employment permit system and seasonal worker employment system. Employment permit system, which was initiated since 2004 applies not only to agriculture but also to the manufacturing and services sectors, and the government limits the size of the foreign workers and sets out the quota for the foreign workers in each sector. Employment permit system has considerably alleviated the problem of labor shortage in medium-large size farms as they have received the foreign worker quota. Nevertheless, the system was limited to effectively solve the labor shortage problems to the farms which could not satisfy the requirements of foreign worker employment and those who wish to temporarily hire workers during the busy times in the farms. As a response to temporary worker shortage problems during the busy times in the farms, Korean government has implemented the ‘seasonal worker employment system’ since 2015. This is a foreign worker supply policy designed to satisfy the working condition in agricultural production activities with the characteristics of seasonality. This paper aims to introduce the background in which Korean government adopted to implement the employment permit system and seasonal worker employment system as foreign worker employment policies in the agricultural sector and also explore the current employment status in the two programs.    

CHANGE IN THE AGRICULTURE LABOR FORCE OF KOREA

The number of farm households in Korea fell from 1.38 million in 1999 to 1.01 million in 2019 showing 1.6% decrease on an annual average, and this figure is anticipated to fall under one million households soon. Also, the number of population of farm households decreased from 4.21 million to 2.25 million showing 3.1% decrease on an annual average during the same periods. In other words, the population of farm households is decreasing faster than the number of farm households. As a result, the share of population of farmers' households in total population dropped sharply from 9.0% in 1999 to 4.4% in 2019 over the past 20 years. The number of employment in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries also dropped 2.6 % annually from 2.4 million in 1999 to 1.4 million in 2019 as shown in Table 1. However, the increasing trend in the number of agricultural workers since 2015 is attributed to the recent return of farmers to farming.

 

More serious phenomenon than the decline in the agricultural population is the aging of the farming population. The ratio of the population those who are 65 and over, which is an indicator to measure the aging rate, was marked 14.9% in Korea, but 46.6% in farm households which is larger than the overall national average. On the contrary, the ratio of the population of those aged 20~49 in farm households has continuously decreased. As of 2019, the number of the population of those young generation aged 20~49 in farm households was recorded only at 15.8%.

Also, in aspects concerning the rural area, the problem of population decline and aging is a serious situation in Korea. According to the statistics on “Resident Registration Status” by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, as of 2019, 66 counties (80.5%) out of 82 counties in the Korean rural arears had experienced a decrease in population compared to 2011. Moreover, all counties (which refer to Guns in Korean) except Yechun gun in Kyungbuk province, have witnessed the advancement of the aging-society in 2019 compared to 2011. In particular, 74 counties (90.2%) out of 82 counties could be categorized as super aged society[1] with 20% and more of the elderly population rate, and 40 counties which are almost half of all counties have reached 30% and more of the elderly population rate.  

In this regard, foreign worker’s employment in the agricultural sector is inevitable due to the shrinking population and aging population in Korea's farm households and rural areas. As a result, the employment system for foreign workers has been implemented since 2003. 

EMPLOYMENT SYSTEM FOR FOREIGN WORKERS IN THE KOREAN AGRICULTURAL SECTOR

Overview

Korea initially formalized the employment of foreign workers to alleviate the labor shortage as it adopted the ‘Industrial Trainee System’[2] in November 1993. The Industrial Trainee Program allows foreigners from developing countries to train in Korea's industries for a certain period of time to improve their skills. The purpose of this system is to solve the shortage of manpower in domestic small and medium-sized enterprises, and to promote mutual cooperation between Korea and among countries by learning advanced technologies for foreign industrial trainees who come to Korea. But it was not an agricultural sector oriented system but rather a manufacturing sector oriented one. This system was extended to allow the agricultural trainees to work as employees in Korea if they work as trainees for a certain period of time for the purpose of promoting economic cooperation with developing countries in 2002. Consequently, in 2003, a ‘foreign agriculture trainee (training for 1 year and employment for 2 years) who arrived in Korea for the first time worked in the agricultural sector[3]. In 2004, Korea government implemented the ‘Employment Permit System’ for foreign workers instead of the industrial trainee system. In other words, the industrial trainee system has been integrated into the employment permit system.

Along with the employment permit system based on long-term employment for a certain period of time, the seasonal worker employment system to cope with short-term labor shortages was launched as a pilot project in 2015. Seasonal worker employment system is a foreign worker supply policy designed to satisfy the characteristics of the seasonality in agricultural production activities.

Since then, the Korean government has been implementing two foreign worker employment policies: ‘Employment Permit System’ and ‘Seasonal Worker Employment System’. Since 2004, employment permit system has been conducted for more than 15 years, and it allows regular employees of foreign workers to work for three years upon their arrival in Korea. Seasonal worker employment system, which has a relatively short history, was initialized as a pilot project in 2015 and finally extended national-wide since 2017. This seasonal worker system is applied only in agriculture and fisheries, targeting short-term workers to stay and work in Korea for a maximum of five months. The background of introduction and operation of the two systems will be examined in more detail below.

Employment Permit System

  • Background

The aforementioned ‘Industrial Trainee System’ is meaningful as a starting point for the employment of foreign workers in Korea, however this system essentially made foreign workers unprotected by labor laws by defining them as trainees, not workers. Therefore it had created many problems during the implementing periods. It has witnessed constant foreign worker’s resort to expedients, leaving the workplace, mass-production of illegal workers, distortion of the labor market and human rights abuse of foreign workers.  

Along with addressing these problems, there were growing calls for the introduction of a new system to hire foreign workers in the mid- to long-term basis. Legislative petitions calling for the systematic employment management of foreign workers were increased due to the Korean workers' avoidance of employment in the 3D (Difficult, Dirty, Dangerous) industry. Particularly small and medium-sized enterprises struggling with labor shortages argued that the industrial trainee system should be changed into the employment permit system. Under these circumstances, ‘Employment Permit System’ was introduced in 2003. The core of this employment permit system is the official permission to legally hire foreign workers for workplaces suffering from labor shortages, not being able to find the national workers.

  • Legal basis and key contents

‘Employment Permit System’ is implemented by the legal basis of ‘Foreign Workers Employment Law’ which was enacted on August 16, 2003 and effective until August 17, 2004. This law recognizes foreign workers as ‘workers’ who are the same as national workers, and accordingly, foreign workers are under Labor Relation Laws including ‘Labor Standards Law’ and ‘Minimum Wage Law’ as national workers are. Small and medium-sized enterprises with less than 300 employees who intend to hire foreign workers may apply for permission to hire foreign workers by proving that they cannot hire domestic workers. The government decides whether to grant permission by reviewing its validity of the companies that applied for the employment of foreign workers.

‘Employment Permit System’ can be categorized into two types: ‘General Employment Permit’ and ‘Special Employment Permit’. ‘General Employment Permit’ was designed for the Korean companies not successful in securing Korean national employees and it allows the companies to hire foreign workers upon the government’s permission if they qualify for the Non-Professional Employment visa (E-9). As of 2020, 16 countries[4] which are mainly Asian countries have signed Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) with Korea under the framework of ‘General Employment System’ can send their workers to Korea. In particular, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and China among the 16 countries are designated as ‘Specialized countries for Agriculture and Livestock’. Those foreign workers who are willing to work in Korea through the ‘General Permit System’ need to take ‘Korean Proficiency Test (TOPIC)’ test and need to acquire the required scores above a certain level, and the qualification of applicant is limited to those aged 18 to 39 years old.

While ‘General Employment Permit’ targets those who go through Korean language test and medical check-ups, ‘Special Employment Permit’ is a system targeting overseas Korean nationals residing in China and the former Soviet Union countries who are qualified for visiting employment visa (H-2). The special employment permit system provides more flexibility in the types of businesses that foreign workers are allowed to work in compared to the general employment permit system and in changing the workplaces of workers. The special employment permit system was created in 2007 with the aim of giving more job opportunities to the oversea Koreans living in China and the regions of the former Soviet Union such as Russia. These oversea Koreans living in China and the regions of the former Soviet Union are issued a visiting employment visa (H-2) and are given special privileges to get jobs in more industries than those allowed for foreign workers under the general employment permit system.The Korea's employment permit system for foreign workers basically recognizes the three-year employment period upon the arrival in country. But if the employee wishes to extend the period of employment in the case of being re-contracted by the employer, additional one year and ten months[5] will be prolonged with 4 years and 10 months maximum period of employment.

  • Situation of the Employment Permit System operation

Employment Permit system is a comprehensive system covering not only agriculture and livestock[6] and fisheries, but also the manufacture (less than 300 regular employees or the business with capital less than 8 billion Korean won[7]), construction and services sectors. Therefore, foreign employment in the agricultural sector goes through the same procedures and processes as other industries.

Foreign workers in each industry are assigned every year. Each year, the total size of foreign employment and the number of people allocated by each industry is determined through comprehensive consideration of the additional demand for foreign workers and the number of foreign workers returning home at the end of their stay, the number of personnel to replace the illegal residents leaving the country and others. In accordance with article 4, ‘Foreign workers employment law’, the responsibility of such a decision is given to ‘Foreign worker policy committee’, the members of the Committee consist of vice ministers from seven related ministries[8] and the chairperson of the committee is the officer of Government Policy Coordination. Also, based on the law, there is ‘Foreign worker policy steering committee’ under ‘Foreign worker policy committee’, which determines the practical work and examines the items such as employment permit system management and the protection of foreign workers’ rights in advance. The foreign worker policy steering committee The foreign worker policy steering committee are now composed of 21 members which are two workers' committee members, two employers' committee members, two civic group representatives, two academic representatives and 12 related ministry members.   The head of the foreign worker policy steering committee is the vice minister of ministry of employment and labor.

Once foreign worker adoption plan is set up through the review and decision by ‘foreign worker policy committee’, the minister of the Ministry of Employment and Labor publicize it by posting on the official gazette or its online version by March 31 every year. As such, recruitment process for foreign workers and hiring process for the national users are shared. The number of the allowed personnel in agriculture and livestock sector are specified by the field, items and the size of the farms as in Table 2.    

Except for the migration and illegal residence control[9], the organizations to manage and supervise foreign workers under the employment permit system are regional offices of employment centers under the Ministry of Employment and Labor, Human Resources Development Service of Korea and National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (agricultural cooperative). In general, the regional office of Employment Center under the Ministry of Employment and Labor overtakes the tasks of relocation of foreign workers workplace, job placement and other issues which require relevant paper work. Human Resources Development Service of Korea plays its role in the conflict-management between employers and employees, daily life and legal consultations, local visit investigation, education for employers and foreign employees in all sectors except those in the agriculture sector. The National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (NACF), Korea's leading agricultural cooperative, is in charge of education and counseling for foreign workers employed in the agricultural sector under the commission of the ministry of employment and labor[10].

In the operation of employment permit system, agriculture sector is distinguished from other sectors in that ‘additional workplace system’ was adopted since 2009. This system allows additional foreign workers to choose other workplaces to work during the agricultural off season. This is because the workloads greatly fluctuate between agricultural activities which are considered busy months and the off seasons particularly for the items with seasonality characteristics. Under this system, the foreign workers may keep his or her contract with the original contractor (employer) during the off-time and make a contract with another employer for two months to four months, and return to the original contracting farm after the secondary contract ends. The additional workplace, by principle, shall be located within the same provincial local government where the original contract farm is located. The additional workplace contract period is restricted to 2~4 months through an application to the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation.

Moreover, the qualification of the employer and workplace is evaluated by grades under the employment permit system, and the major evaluation items are the ratio of the number of actual employees over the number of permitted foreign workers, the ratio of the number of contract completed re-hired workers over the number of hired foreign workers, the number of newly requested employees, the new number of the national employees and etc. Extra credits are also given to the farm recognized as environmentally friendly, farm with dormitory operation performance, non-accident foreign employment sites for five consecutive years, workplaces following the guidelines for the preparation of standard labor contracts in the agricultural industry and etc. Minus points and factors are given to the farm violating the rights of foreign workers based on the site supervision or review results, farm in arrears with insurance premium, farm where industrial accidents occur and are concealed, outbreak of livestock disease such as avian influenza (AI) for the past two years and etc. Through this evaluation, employment permits are issued and employment permit is issued and new labor force is assigned, focusing on workplaces that have expressed their intention to hire foreigners and applied for permission.  

  • Employment situation under the Employment Permit System

The number of foreign workers in Korea under Employment Permit System (E-9) was 222,374 as of December 2018. Among them, 23,804 people accounting for 10.7% of the total number of foreign workers were engaged in agriculture and livestock industry. More specifically, looking at the employment of foreign workers employed in the agricultural sector, crop cultivation had the largest proportion with 14,452 people (60.7%), and was followed by livestock (9,076 people, 38.1%), and services related to crop cultivation and livestock (276 people, 1.2%). According to ‘Foreign immigration policy monthly statistics report’ of the Ministry of Justice, in 2018 the size of foreign workers in the agricultural sector under the employment permit system increased more than 240% from 9,849 foreign workers in 2010. The share of the women foreign workers has been increased from 27.8% in 2010 to 33% in 2019

The quarter for the foreign workers (E-9) in the agriculture and livestock industry has gradually risen. As shown in the Table 3, when the employment permit system was initiated in 2004, only 1.4% (43 workers) of the total quarter of foreign workers was assigned for the agriculture and livestock industry, and the share of agricultural sector is increased up to 11.4% of total number of foreign workers in 2019.

Seasonal Worker System

  • Background

Seasonal worker system was initiated in 2015 with Chinese workers assigned in Goesan-Gun, Chungcheongbuk-Do in Korea with a short-term employment visa (C-4, 90days) on a trial basis. This reflects the reality that ‘employment permit system’ targeting regular workers for long-term employment of more than one year could not cover the characteristics of the labor demand of the agricultural sector. It is because there is a seasonal feature of the labor force required for most agricultural production activities except for the livestock industry and the facility horticulture industry. In particular, the shortage of labor in the rural areas during the farming season in Korea was a serious problem, and this is the same as it is now. The rural areas always face labor shortage during the farming season. This is also confirmed by the public release[11] by the Ministry of Justice in 2015 when seasonal worker system was initially introduced as a pilot project. Seasonal worker system has been expanded to nationwide projects since 2017. It is for reflecting the wishes of farmers and local governments to hire foreign workers in order to solve the severe labor shortage during the farming season. The experiences of hiring foreign workers in the agricultural sector in other advanced countries such as Germany, France, USA, Australia which adopted ‘foreign seasonal workers’ system for the similar reasons also greatly affected the introduction of this system in Korea.

  • Legal basis and key contents

The legal basis of the ‘Seasonal Workers System’ lies on ‘Immigration Control Act’. According to article 12 (general resident requirements) of ‘enforcement decree of the immigration control act’ and Appendix 1 (short term residence requirements), seasonal workers (with C-4 visa) refers to those who wishes to work for short period of time in the fields of cultivation and harvesting of agricultural crops including primitive processing fields associated with cultivation and harvesting and primitive processing of marine products as determined by the consultation with the Minister of Justice regarding relevant central administrative government entities. Seasonal worker system is also subject to the labor standards law in the course of entering into a labor contract as in the employment permit system.  

Foreign workers who wish to work as seasonal workers are required to receive short-term employment (C-4, 90 days) or seasonal work (E-8, 5 months) visas. Seasonal worker system is open only to those who engage in agriculture within the age group of 30 to 55 years old[12]. This short-term employment system for foreign workers basically initiates by submitting a plan to manage foreign workers and the number of foreign workers which are needed by local governments that lack agricultural labor. The Ministry of Justice reviews and approves the plans of local governments. In the process, the Ministry of Justice will select local governments that are allowed for allocating foreign seasonal workers through the review by Seasonal Worker Assignment Review Council. The Council consists of members from related ministries such as the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Employment and Labor.

Unlike the employment permit system, the seasonal worker system places emphasis on the autonomy of local government in the process of selecting and operating foreign workers. In most cases, the Korean local governments recruit foreign workers through the Memorandum of Understanding on seasonal working with foreign local governments or hire the personals who are the family members of the marriage immigrant or family members staying in Korea. Under the seasonal worker system, the employment period of foreign workers cannot be extended, but is allowed to enter into the country twice a year at the maximum. The seasonal worker system is a foreign employment system that works only for the agricultural sector, which is helping to grow crops that are seasonal in agricultural activities. The operation size for each local government is determined by the comprehensive considerations including its management capacity, system operation plan, the scale of demand for foreign workers at farms located in local governments and others. 

  • Situation of the Seasonal Worker System Operation

The major step-by-step procedure for the seasonal worker system, which is operated under the leadership of the local government in Korea where labor shortages are severe during the farming season is as below.

First of all, local governments submit application documents to the Ministry of Justice that include contacts point, production items and the number of people who want to hire foreign seasonal workers in the local farms and farming corporations.

The second step is to select the local governments and determine the size of foreign workers to allocate seasonal workers at the "Seasonal Worker Assignment Review Council," which consists of officials from the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Under the seasonal worker system, the allocation of foreign workers in areas with little seasonality such as the livestock sector is excluded. This is to exclude those with no distinguishable seasonal traits such as livestock sector. Items allocated to foreign workers by the seasonal worker system and the number of people allocated by farm size are as shown in Table 4.

 The Seasonal Worker Assignment Review Council will be held twice a year in the first half and the second half of the year to determine the size of the allocation of seasonal workers by local governments. The council takes into account the following factors for its decision: management plan for foreign workers of local government, the size of demand for foreign workers in the region, and the status of management of existing foreign workers' employment farms, local government’s staff assignment for management and supervision, preventive measures for foreign workers leaving the workplace, preventive measures for the human rights violation by hiring farmers, and incidents of illegal residence by former seasonal workers and others. In the comprehensive consideration of the aforementioned factors, the council decides the size of seasonal workers for each local government twice a year.

After foreign seasonal workers are assigned to each local government, all foreign workers' management and supervision are conducted under the responsibility of local governments, except for immigration and departure of the foreign workers[13]. Each local government shall perform the tasks of management and supervision with one officer in charge per 50 foreign workers by the guideline. The officer shall undertake the tasks of the education of foreign workers and hiring farm, the conflict management between foreign workers and hiring farm after contract, prevention of foreign workers leaving the workplace and etc.  

Farmers who wish to employ seasonal workers shall provide accommodations where foreign workers reside, and housing essential facilities and goods for foreign workers.[14] It is also required to purchase industrial insurance for foreign workers. Therefore, foreign workers can receive insurance coverage if a disaster occurs in the workplace. In addition, local governments are providing various forms of support to foreign workers and farmers in their jurisdiction. For instance, many local governments installed the free wireless internet in the hiring farm so that foreign workers would enjoy the internet. Also, there is a case where local government supports foreign workers to enjoy sightseeing on national parks or tourist spots as a group before leaving Korea.

  • Employment situation under the Seasonal Worker System

Through the pilot project of Seasonal Worker System during 2015 and 2016, the nation wide extended project was implemented in 2017 with 1,463 foreign seasonal workers assigned to 20 local governments. The number of local governments and seasonal foreign workers has doubled in 2019 with 3,612 seasonal workers assigned to 47 local bodies[15].

At the provincial level, it is also notable that 3,093 workers which is 85.6% of the total seasonal workers (as of 2019) was assigned to Gangwon, Chungbuk, and Gyeongbuk provinces where up-land field farming is relatively dominant.

According to the nationality of foreign workers, there are many foreign seasonal workers in order of the Philippines (1,228 workers, 34.0%), Vietnam (870 workers, 24.1%), and Cambodia (311 workers, 8.6%). 772 workers (21.4%) have arrived by marriage immigrants’ invitation.

CONCLUSION

Agriculture labor decline in Korea is not transient, but rather structural and constant. The number of farming households has dropped and the aging level in the remaining rural households is high. The phenomenon of hollowing out in the rural areas is becoming a serious social problem, and this worsens the difficulty of finding both regular and temporary work force in the agricultural sector. Under such circumstances, Korea turns its eyes to foreign worker employment. Korea's agricultural sector relies heavily on foreign labor power and this trend will continue unless there are special measures in the future.

Currently, the Korean government implements two foreign worker employment policies: one is ‘Employment Permit System’ targeting regular workers and another is ‘Seasonal Worker System’ designed to meet the seasonal demands in the agricultural sector. The employment permit system allows foreign workers to be employed for more than one year and up to four years and 10 months, while the seasonal work system allows them to be employed during farming season for up to three months. In 2019, the quota for foreign workers assigned to the agricultural sector under the employment permit system was 6,400 and additionally more than 3,600 seasonal workers was employed under the seasonal worker system in Korea. These two systems of hiring foreign workers are of great help to farms facing the labor shortage because they could not recruit the national workers.

The aging of Korean farmers and the rising wages of domestic workers lead to higher dependency on foreign workers in the aspect of agriculture labor force. As of 2018, the total number of foreign workers in the agricultural sector was about 28,000. As the dependence on foreign workers in the agricultural sector increases, several issues are emerging. Much of this is that the system for foreign employment in the agricultural sector needs to be supplemented. One of the most important issues is to increase foreign quotas to meet increasing demand. Also, it is necessary to reorganize the foreign employment related system to meet the special nature of agriculture. And the quality and quantity of education for employers and foreign workers should be improved. Finally, reasonable working hours and wage systems should be established for both farmers and foreign workers.

The Korean government is striving to improve the employment system for foreign workers through continuous monitoring and system improvement. Given the internal and external circumstances in the agricultural labor market and the foreign worker employment trend in the agricultural sector, the number of foreign worker employment is expected to increase gradually.

REFERENCES

Choi Surrie, Lee Changwon, 2016, Policy implications and future tasks based on the results of the pilot project of the seasonal worker system, The Migration Research and Training Centre of the International Organization for Migration. Republic of Korea

Eom Jinyoung, Park Junki, Yoo Chanhee, Kim Sunyong, 2018, Measures to improve the foreign worker related system to support agricultural workers, Korea Rural Economic Institute, Seoul, Korea.

Kim Jungseob, Oh Naewon, Heo Junyeong, 2014, Agricultural Employment and Labor Supply and the countermeasures, Korea Rural Economic Institute, Seoul, Korea.

Korea Rural Economic Institute, 2018, Agricultural Outlook, Korea Rural Economic Institute, Seoul, Korea.

Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA). 2019. Major statistics of Korean Agriculture and Forestry, Seoul, Korea.

Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL), Annual Reports. Employment Permit System; Employment Monitoring.  

National Assembly Research Service, Agriculture, Food, Rural Affairs, Oceans, and Fisheries Committee, The Korea Rural Sociological Society, 2019, Joint Seminar Booklet ‘Foreign Workers Employment Monitoring and Challenges in the Rural Area’

National Assembly Law information (https://likms.assembly.go.kr/law)

Statistics Korea (KOSTAT), Annual Report ‘Economically Active Population Survey’

Statistics Korea (KOSTAT), Annual Report ‘Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery Survey’


[1] In general, if the proportion of those aged 65 and above of the total population is 7% or over, it is categorized as ‘aging-society’, 14~20% as ‘aged society’ and 20% and over is ‘super aged society’.

[2] Even before the adoption of industrial trainee system, foreign worker’s employment in Korea was allowed strictly to the specific jobs that lacked domestic labor force, but simple functional manpower inflow was not allowed.

[3] Kim Jungseob, Oh Naewon, Heo Junyeong, 2014, Agricultural Employment and Labor Supply and the countermeasures, p. 19.  Korea Rural Economic Institute, Seoul, Korea.

[4] The Philippines, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Cambodia, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, East Timor, Laos (MOU establishment order)

[5] The employment activity period can be extended only once more.

[6] It covers crop cultivation, livestock industry, crop cultivation and livestock related service industry.

[7] It is about USD 6.8 million

[8] Ministry of Economy and Finance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, Ministry of Employment and Labor, Ministry of SMEs and Startups, Ministry of the Interior and Safety, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

[9] This is the responsibility of Immigration service under Ministry of Justice

[10] NACF’S education for foreign workers is usually 2 nights 3 days program, and it covers Korean language, relevant laws, preventive education on leaving workplace and sexual harassment, basic training on agricultural work, medical check-ups and etc.

[11] Public release of the Ministry of Justice: Pilot operation of foreign seasonal worker system (2015.10.14)

[12] However, in case of marriage immigrant or Foreign national Korean’s family member could be over 19 years old.

[13] Immigration shall be administered by Migration Service under Ministry of Justice as in employment permit system.

[14] This shall include cooling and heating facilities, toilet with lock inside, shower facility with hot water, cookware and bedding, fire extinguisher, fire detector and etc.

[15] This year, seasonal workers have not been able to enter in the country due to the global pandemic (COVID-19), but in the first half of 2020, the inflow of 4,532 seasonal workers into 46 local entities has been confirmed.

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