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Recruiting Immigrant Workers: Korea 2019

image of Recruiting Immigrant Workers: Korea 2019

The Korean labour migration system has expanded since the mid-2000s, primarily in the admission of temporary foreign workers for less skilled jobs. Its temporary labour programme, addressed largely at SMEs in manufacturing and based on bilateral agreements with origin countries, has become the largest such programme in the OECD.  Structural changes in the labour force, with a rapidly shrinking and highly educated youth population, keep the underlying demand for this programme strong. Yet skills levels of workers are increasing, and there is interest in increasing Korea's share in global talent mobility, including international students and innovative entrepreneurs. This book addresses the question of how to ensure that international recruitment can help meet urgent needs in the labour market which cannot be met locally, and how the temporary labour migration programme - and other migration streams - can evolve to ensure that Korea meets its policy objectives. This review first examines the characteristics of the Korean labour market and main challenges where labour migration can help address demand. Following a discussion of various programmes and procedures, the review assesses how labour migration is playing a role in different sectors and how programme governance could be improved. It then explores the channels for high-skilled migrants and how these could be improved in light of international experience.

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Executive summary

Labour migration is used as one of several responses to labour demand in certain sectors of the Korean labour market. Korea has an ageing population, a rapidly shrinking but unprecedentedly high-educated youth cohort, and a dual labour market with a large number of low quality jobs. Jobs in SMEs in the manufacturing sector are particularly unattractive to resident workers and hard to fill. Migration to Korea has grown in two decades, bringing the number of resident foreigners to about 3% of the population; in 2016, foreigners comprised 3.7% of the economically active population, below the OECD average. About half of all immigrants are from China, many of them arriving through work-visit programmes for ethnic Korean foreign nationals. The transition to permanent residence is high in this group. This review addresses the question of whether Korean labour migration policy ensures that international recruitment helps meet needs in the labour market which cannot be met locally. It examines key issues in the design of the Korean labour migration system, explores obstacles to labour migration for highly qualified foreigners and mobile global talent, and identifies where Korea can consider changes to make improvements.

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