More than 26,000 Vietnamese workers are staying in South Korea illegally, discrediting Vietnam and placing future labor contracts in jeopardy, an official said.
Pham Ngoc Lan, deputy director of the Center of Overseas Labor at the labor ministry, told news website VnExpress that around 60 percent of the workers were sent to South Korea officially under bilateral labor agreements, but they have overstayed their visas.
Others came through unofficial channels.
Some workers who overstayed told local media earlier that they could not find a stable job with good income at home to support their poor families.
But Lan said the problem is their poor awareness of consequences.
“Several countries with income per capita equal to or even lower than Vietnam have also sent their workers to South Korea, but not many of them stay illegally.”
Only around 7 percent of Cambodia workers there are staying illegally, while the rate among Vietnamese workers is nearly 50 percent, she said.
She said some Korean businesses are willing to harbor them to save recruitment and insurance payments.
The two countries signed the first labor agreement in 2004 and it expired at the end of last year.
South Korea first ended the agreement in August 2012 after many Vietnamese workers did not leave after their labor contracts ended.
It resumed the agreement for one year in December 2013 after the rate of illegal workers dropped from 50 percent to 38 percent.
The country earlier this year signed a new agreement with Vietnam, allowing the latter to post 5,400 applications on the Internet until July 20, and South Korea’s employers will select the best candidates from the list.
But Lan said that with the rate of illegal workers rising again, the chance of further employment for many is slim.
“If we cannot fix the situation, it’s highly likely that South Korea will shut its doors to new workers. We are going to lose this potential market.”
She is calling Vietnamese workers to come home after their visas expire to save themselves from cash penalties and being banned from returning to South Korea.
Figures from South Korean government showed that it arrested 5,000 illegal workers during the first three months this year, around 700 of them Vietnamese.
The South Korean government is taking strong measures to force a total of 226,000 illegal workers to leave the country.
Vietnam has fined 782 of its workers VND90 million each after they were caught staying in South Korea illegally.
Lan said the workers arrested would be banned from returning to South Korea for up to ten years.
But those who volunteer to come home will only face a two-year ban.