[lg policy] Editorial: Japan can learn from S. Korea over foreign worker policy

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue Nov 27 11:10:20 EST 2018

Editorial: Japan can learn from S. Korea over foreign worker policy

November 26, 2018 (Mainichi Japan)

Japanese version <https://mainichi.jp/articles/20181126/ddm/005/070/027000c>

A worldwide competition is underway in search of workers. South Korea is
especially active in this race in East Asia.

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The country was originally negative about hiring foreigners. But as more
South Koreans were avoiding jobs like those at small- and medium-sized
companies, Seoul was forced to take action due to the decline in the birth
rate and the greying of society and ventured into new waters.

Learning from the Japanese precedent, South Korea introduced an industrial
trainee system in 1993. But under the name of training, some of those
trainees were forced to work under tough conditions and fled their
workplaces as a result. This made illegal stays a focus of social concern.
South Korea has already experienced the situation that Japan now faces with
the Technical Intern Training Program.

The South Korean government was quick in realizing the problem. In 2004,
Seoul introduced a new system called a work permit program in which the
government was responsible for the acceptance of foreign workers.

Under the program, South Korea signs a bilateral agreement with a country
that is sending their nationals as workers. This is to exclude job
placement agencies that do not play by the book while securing a stable
supply of workers. Seoul now has its government offices in countries where
foreign workers originate to make necessary arrangements for their
employment. Those countries can feel secure that their nationals are
treated properly in South Korea. As many as 16 nations, including Vietnam,
have signed such agreements.

This South Korean precedent, in which the host government is responsible
for recruiting and dispatching foreign workers, is full of lessons for

Under the current Japanese plan, the government's involvement stops at the
point where Tokyo decides on how many foreign workers to accept in which
industries. Those responsible for accepting them are companies hiring them
and registration support organizations to be set up by industries where
those companies belong. This arrangement leaves open the possibility that
exploitation would remain in the foreign job placement industry.

In South Korea, the government is responsible for the education of the
Korean language for foreigners. Seoul also organizes social integration
policies by organizing courses on tradition and the culture of the East
Asian country. In Germany, too, where many foreign workers live, Berlin
guarantees that they receive at least 600 hours of language education.

However, the South Korean situation is far from perfect. Some workers are
overstaying their visas, and foreign employees cannot choose companies they
wish to work for in principle. Nevertheless, Seoul's stance is completely
different from Tokyo's in that Japan attempts to confine the acceptance of
foreign workers to the immigration control policy.

Japan's edge in the global competition for workers in terms of salaries is
eroding. Foreign workers will no longer pick our country if we stick with
our self-serving conditions.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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