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Managing Labor Migration in the Twenty-First Century
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Occupational Distribution of Employed Workers, March 2002
Occupational Distribution of Employed Workers, March 2002
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January 2013 Volume 20 Number 1

Japan, Korea


Japan's economy shrank at a 3.5 percent annualized rate in the third quarter of 2012, prompting fears of another recession. The out-going Democratic Party announced plans to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a plan to reduce tariffs in a dozen nations bordering the Pacific ocean, which should lower consumer prices and increase exports, helping urban consumers and workers at the expense of farmers.

However, the Liberal Democratic Party that governed Japan for most of the half century until 2009 won the December 16, 2012 vote by promising $10 trillion yen ($120 billion) in public works projects to stimulate the economy. Voters turned against the LDP in 2009 after almost two decades of economic stagnation, but returned the LDP's Shinzo Abe, who had been prime minister between 2006 and 2007.

Korea. There were 1.4 million foreigners in Korea at the end of 2011, including 727,000 migrant workers. The 500,000 non-professional migrant workers included 300,000 ethnic Korean Chinese and another 200,000 foreign workers admitted under the Employment Permit System. The quota of newly admitted migrant workers was 57,000 for 2012, up from 48,000 in 2011. Some 67,000 EPS migrants are expected to leave Korea in 2012 as their period of employment expires.

Many Korean employers use corporal punishment on employees who make mistakes. A survey of 450 migrant workers in South Gyeongsang province found that almost 14 percent suffered physical abuse in the workplace, often at the hands of their Korean co-workers when they said they misunderstood instructions given in Korean. Average monthly salaries were 1.6 million won ($1,500), or about $300 a month less than Korean co-workers. Migrants remitted an average one million won a month. Most workers were employed six days a week, 11 hours a day.

Over 80 percent of the migrants had at least a high-school education. Migrants reported paying an average $5,000 in their country of origin to obtain contracts to work in Korea.

Some 22,000 of the 70,000 Vietnamese in Korea in Fall 2012 were working illegally, the highest rate of illegality among the 15 countries that send EPS migrant workers to Korea. The Korea-Vietnam MOU requires migrants to pay $630 in Vietnam and $400 for insurance after arriving in Korea, but most migrants pay far more to leave Vietnam, often $5,000 to $10,000 to obtain three-year contracts for jobs that pay $1,000 a month.

Vietnamese brokers, many of whom are ex-government officials, say that they are paid by migrants to help Korean employers to select particular workers. The brokers often provide interpreters that are used during Skype interviews, and tell them to say what the employer wants to hear rather than what the applicant actually said. Korea allows migrant workers to change employers. Migrants who have disputes with the employer who originally selected them can quit and are given three months to find another Korean employer without leaving the country.

After four years and 10 months in Korea, foreign workers must return to their country of origin for at least three months before they can return to Korea under the EPS. The Korean government operates seven migrant worker support centers in major urban areas, and an additional 27 smaller support centers in rural areas.

Multiculturalism. Many rural Korean men marry women from the Philippines and other southeast Asian countries. Over half of Korean farmers who wed marry foreign women, and a tenth of marriages in South Korea involved a foreign spouse in 2011. Some 211,000 marriage migrants entered Korea in 2011, up from 127,000 in 2007.

Some Korean men who sponsored foreign women as brides but were soon abandoned by the foreign women have organized protests against the government's multicultural policy. In some cases, Vietnamese families encourage their daughters to marry Korean men for promises such as dowry payments of $100 a month to support parents who remain in Vietnam.

Korea has a very competitive educational system, with most parents enrolling their K-12 children in private "cram schools" known as hagwon. There were 134,000 hagwon that had receipts of 12 trillion won ($11 billion) in 2011.
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