The NHRC Recommends the Prime Minister to Gradually Eliminate the "Foreign Industrial Trainee" Program (08-13-2002)
On 13 August the NHRC recommended the prime minister to completely reconsider the "Foreign Workforce Policy" as announced by the Government last 15July. The NHRC considers the newly announced policy to be lacking in regards to improving the current situation of the human rights violations of the foreign migrant workers. The human rights violations against foreign workers in Korea have been criticized not only domestically but internationally as well. Thus, the committee has recommended the prime minister to gradually eliminate the notorious "Foreign Industrial Trainee" program, to gradually legalize the illegal migrants, and to abolish policies based on ethnicity.
The "Foreign Industrial Trainee" program was initially adopted in the pretext that the program will aid collaboration between Korea and third world countries. However, in reality, the program has been utilized by small businesses seeking cheap labor. Those in the business sector in the meantime--including the Korean Federation of Small and Medium Business--have argued that the current policy need not be abolished but that the policy be reformed to a degree.
However, the NHRC argues that the policy has caused "grave violations of the rights of the foreign workers, thus creating a negative image that Korea is indifferent to the human rights of foreign workers," and that "there is a pressing need to adopt an employment authorization policy in which foreign workers may legally get employed, and their rights--3 basic rights and social security--protected." The NHRC has also argued that, "the abolishment of the Foreign Workforce Policy will no doubt cause man-shortage for small and medium sized businesses. However, the Government should at least consider gradually eliminating the policy."
The new policy, as announced by the Government, permits foreign workers to get employment in the service sector. The NHRC welcomes this revision. However, at the same time, the NHRC is concerned that the manufacturing sector has been excluded, and is concerned that the exclusion will result in fostering more illegal migrants. The NHRC is also concerned that the revision permitting employment in the service sector may be restricted to ethnic Koreans (Korean Chinese), resulting in a racially discriminatory policy. Moreover, the NHRC considers it troublesome that the new policy does not revise any of the related labor laws, but rather adds a restrictive visa permission article to the Immigration Control Act.
Although the NHRC basically agrees with the Government decision to deport all illegal migrants -- including those 2.6 million workers who voluntarily reported their status in Korea -- by 31 March 2002, the NHRC asks the Government to consider whether: 1) deporting the workers at once will cause possible human rights violations; 2) the illegal workers came into Korea because the domestic market needed them in the first place, and the workers have subsequently contributed to the economic welfare of the nation; 3) the Government has tacitly approved of illegal migrants working in Korea. Following these facts, the NHRC considers it reasonable that the migrants be deported gradually over an ample time period.