Foreign workers all the rage now, not just in Singapore

HRM 26 Feb 2013

Singapore is not the only Asian country facing a talent shortage – countries like South Korea are starting to tap on a foreign talent pool to plug the gap.

With its ageing population, South Korea has gone from a country where labour was an abundant resource to one seeking foreigners to help run its plants and firms. While its neighbour Japan has largely rejected imported labour as a solution to its ageing workforce, South Korea is starting to accept this change.

In a report by Bloomberg, the number of immigrants has risen sevenfold to 1.5 million since 2000, which is 2.8% of the population. By 2030, immigrants would make up more than six per cent by 2030. “It’s inevitable that we will have to absorb foreign labour to boost our economy,” Choi Kwang Hae, director general at the Finance Ministry, quoted as saying.

A growing number of South Korean exporters are supplementing their ageing workforce with unskilled labour from the region.  “Our factory can’t operate without foreign workers,” said Park Kwang Seo, director at Homyeong Chemical, which supplies packaging to Coca-Cola and coating films to Samsung Electronics. “We need to hire more to meet demand.”  

“We can’t find enough Korean workers, especially young men,” he added. “The quota system on foreign workers is still too rigid.”

To ease the labour shortage, the government recently announced steps to ease work visa and citizenship requirements. The quota for low-skilled workers this year is 62,000, up from 57,000 in 2012.

However, experts say that attitudes from the public have to be changed.

“The country is still highly susceptible to xenophobia,” said Chung Ki Seon, head of research at IOM Migration Research & Training Centre, which studies immigration policies worldwide. “But Japan gives us a clear lesson on what will happen if we keep the door closed.”

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