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Skilled foreign staff fluent in Korean can work up to 10 years in Korea

Foreign staff with high fluency in Korean and who have worked for a designated period at the same workplace can work in the country for up to 10 years without needing to depart or reenter.

The range of job types open to foreign workers has also been expanded to more fields like cargo handling and housekeeping.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment on Dec. 29 said the ministry deliberated and decided on the revision of the Employment Permit System (EPS).

Adopted in 2004, the EPS allows foreign staff to work in Korea for up to four years and 10 months with one reentry into the country permitted. For this reason, companies found it hard to keep skilled foreign workers who had worked for a long time and many such laborers chose to stay in the nation illegally.

The ministry's new E-9 work visa for non-professionals allows a foreign worker fluent in Korean who has worked for the same employer for a long time to work in the country for up to 10 years. To qualify, an applicant must complete at least three levels of a ministry-run educational program on social integration and get a certain score on the Test of Proficiency in Korean.

The criteria for receiving an employment permit were also widened. E-9 holders had been limited to jobs in agriculture, manufacturing and construction but will be allowed on a trial basis to pursue work in select service sectors like waste disposal, meat transportation and cargo handling.

New measures for temporary jobs were announced. Foreign workers can be dispatched to work at farms during the summer farming season and in fishing villages during the seafood processing season in winter. For housekeeping, a government-certified entity will run a pilot project for hiring foreign staff to perform services.

In addition, foreign students who wish to work in Korea but are ineligible for the E-7 visa for those with professional skills can apply for the E-9 so that the country can develop a specialized workforce.

Park Jong-pil, director-general of the ministry's Labor Inspection Policy Bureau, said in a briefing on the background of EPS reform, "While deploying skilled foreign workers to where they are needed to minimize the impact on the domestic labor market, we sought to present the basic direction of the new EPS 2.0 to support companies that badly need foreign workers."

By Min Yea-Ji