Human Rights Series 1st: Non-Registered Workers in Jeju Island
최종 수정일: 5월 26일
March 21, 2023
by Sung Jae Ahn
Jeju Island has a demographic with a high percentage of non-registered foreign workers. According to a study report by the Korean Immigration Association (2018), 25.8% of the labor force in rural areas of Jeju are foreign workers, and 62.8% of them are unregistered.
The cause of this issue is the "Jeju visa-free entry system," which only applies to Jeju Island in South Korea.
But why do foreign workers use the Jeju visa-free entry system instead of the proper employment systems? Two types of foreign worker employment systems exist: a one-year employment permit system and the three-to-five-month seasonal worker system. The two systems work in a straightforward manner, as you can tell by the naming of the systems. Foreign workers are permitted to work for the specified amount of time mentioned in the system’s name itself. The important part to note is that there is a minimum three-month cutline for employing foreign workers, regardless of the system used.
However, because the Jeju farming industry is centered on fruit trees and field crops, which requires labor for only a day at the shortest and two months at the longest, it is difficult for crop farmers to use one of the two employment systems. To avoid this problem and to increase their chances of being employed, foreign workers enter Jeju as unregistered laborers through the Jeju visa-free entry system.
In addition, employers prefer unregistered foreign workers due to their low labor costs. The employment systems’ complex application process also contributes to the increased demand for unregistered foreign workers.
The cheap wages of unregistered foreign workers benefit the Korean economy by maintaining the unfavored sectors of agriculture, fishing, and industry. But at the same time, unregistered foreign workers are often excluded from many social welfare systems that generally cover registered workers. Workers excluded from legal protections and social services are left vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. In this article, we will explore such challenges that unregistered foreign workers encounter.
Legal Protection, Mistreatment
One of the biggest problems that unregistered foreign workers experience is the lack of legal protection. Many employers hire unregistered foreign workers illegally and refuse to pay minimum wage, provide insurance, or even ensure safe working conditions. These workers are very likely to be subject to various forms of abuse, such as forced labor or human trafficking. These conditions leave unregistered foreign workers in a precarious situation, as they cannot report their employers to the authorities without the risk of being deported.
Another problem facing unregistered foreign workers is the lack of access to healthcare. Non-registered foreign workers are not eligible for the Korean National Health Insurance system, meaning they must pay for medical treatment out of pocket. It can be prohibitively costly, leaving these individuals without adequate healthcare.
Unregistered foreign workers also face a language barrier. As many of them do not speak Korean, they may have difficulty gaining access to basic services, such as legal support, healthcare, or even housing.
The important issue regarding the welfare and human rights of unregistered foreign workers on Jeju Island requires urgent attention. A new employment system that targets the specific case of Jeju Island is needed to regulate employers, provide affordable healthcare, improve language support, and strengthen legal protection for unregistered foreign workers. In doing so, it will ultimately create a more equitable and just society for all.