Korea’s foreign employment hits all-time high

The number of foreign workers in Korea broke 900,000 this year as the end of the COVID-19 emergency brought back more foreigners into the country.

The number stood at 923,000 as of May, an increase of 9.5% from the same period a year earlier, according to Statistics Korea data released Monday (Dec 18, 2023).

That figure is the highest since the organisation began compiling the relevant data in 2012. At that time, the number of foreign workers stood at 698,000.

“A significant jump in nonprofessional employment and international students amid the stage of Covid-19 endemic affected an increase in the number of [foreigners] employed,” said a Statistics Korea official.

Foreigners’ labour force participation rate was 68.2%, an on-year increase of 0.6 percentage points.

But the employment rate for foreign workers slid 0.3 percentage points to 64.5%, while the unemployment rate inched up 1.2 points to reach 5.4% on year in 2023.

The rate has been generally falling from its 2012 figure of 72.4%.

More than 50% of workers received monthly salaries between 2 million won ($1,540) and 3 million won over the past year, followed by 35.8% that received more than 3 million won.

Foreigners spent 39.4% of their income on living expenses, 23.2% on overseas remittances, 15.7% on savings and 11.8% on housing costs.

Their work locations were largely in Gyeonggi, Seoul and Chungcheong.

The number of foreigners living in Korea aged 15 and older jumped 9.9% on year in May to 1.43 million.

By nationality, the Vietnamese population saw an increase of 32,000 people, while 5,000 additional people came from China.

The number of Korean-Chinese residents declined by 7,000.

Those aged between 15 to 29 accounted for the largest age demographic, with 70,000, followed by 33,000 foreigners in their 30s.

Of those staying on E-9 visas, granted to foreign nationals who wish to work in certain industries that require manual or nonprofessional labour, 14.5% were from Nepal and Cambodia, respectively, followed by 11.9% from Vietnam.

Many of those workers came to Korea seeking a higher wage, according to Statistics Korea’s data.

Many international students staying with D-2, D-4-1 and D-4-7 visas said they came to Korea for its well-established education system and because they were personally interested in the country.

By nationality, 38.3% of those students came from Vietnam, 27.7% from China and 6.4% from Uzbekistan.

Korea has been seeking more foreign workers amid its current population crisis. It will accept 165,000 foreign workers on E-9 visas next year, which will mark a record high.

Industries eligible to employ E-9 visa workers will expand to include restaurants, mining and forestry. – The Korea JoongAng Daily

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