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[Immigration] Apiwat is a migrant worker 2010.09.29 15:09 5229
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Apiwat is a migrant worker who came to South Korea three years ago in July 18, 2007. During his employment, Apiwat worked hard and his employer asked him to stay for two more years. According to the revised Foreign Workers Employment Law (i.e. Employment Permit System) in South Korea, amended in October 2009, migrant workers can work up to five consecutive years without having to make the obligatory one-month sojourn outside Korea to extend their job contracts. In Apiwat's case, his employer promised to apply for his visa renewal.


Surprisingly. Apiwat’s renewal application was rejected by the Ministry of Labor. In order to extend his visa, it was obliged to submit his application 15 days before his visa invalidation; however his forms failed to make the deadline. Even though Apiwat urged the company to take action promptly several times, his employer simply did not pay attention and ultimately filed the application outside the stipulated time limit. While this error can be attributed to the employer, the blame first and foremost lies with the Ministry of Labor, who failed to adequately promote the revision of the law after its implementation.


In response to this case, Gong-Gam filed a compensation lawsuit on behalf of Apiwat against his company and the Ministry of Labor. Gong-Gam, in collaboration with the Joint Committee with Migrants in Korea, also held a press conference denouncing the actions of the Government on this issue.


Surprisingly, Apiwat was ineligible to apply for the renewal owing to the current system. Under this Employment Permit System, only employers can file an application to extend an employee's working permit. This is because the current scheme is based on a "Hiring Permit System" instead of a "Working Permit System". In other words, the Korean Government does not explicitly allow migrant workers to work in Korea but rather gives rights to domestic employers to hire their manpower from overseas. As a result, there are no rights for migrant workers to control their own status. Under the current system, foreign workers are unable to change their workplace or apply for a renewal of a work visa without their employer's help. This one-sided choice creates a situation where migrant workers are increasingly subordinate to his or her employer. In some cases, forced labor was reported under such circumstances.


In addition, the current system places a number of burdens on the migrant worker. Specifically, upon a migrant's arrival, he or she must attend an employment training session. Conversely, there are no obligations for employers to attend educational sessions about the guidelines or the laws regarding the status of foreign employees. Consequently, many employers don't pay attention to critical changes in laws and procedures, like in Apiwat's case. It is the Government that should play an active role to assist employers to understand relevant revisions. To date, the Korean government notification system simply involves communicating revisions via fax and text. In light of this, it is the migrant worker who ultimately suffers from both the lethargic attitude of the government and mistakes made by employers.


In conclusion, migrant workers are not commodities, whose value is limited to their convenience as a cheap source of labor. These workers are human beings just like us and are entitled to be treated equally and fairly. Discrimination based on a person’s level of skill or place of origin is simply unacceptable.


          <Writer : Attorney Yoon, Ji-Yeong>

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