Kim Sung-Jae is the Vice President of Human Resource Development Service of Korea. Kim looks after Foreign Workforce and Global Employment. A PhD in Business Administration from Ulsan University, he has taken this responsibility since 2021. Born in 1964, he worked as Director General at the Foreign Workforce Bureau from 2019-21.
The Republic of Korea (RoK) has become a lucrative destination for Nepali migrant workers. After the labour agreement between the government of Nepal and Korea in 2007, the RoK has begun hiring workers from Nepal through the Employment Permit System (EPS) since 2008. Nepal’s participation in the EPS has been mutually rewarding to both the countries.
The Korean government has accorded topmost priority to Nepal to recruit workers. Both governments have been working to make the selection process more transparent and fairer. As part of this initiative, a Ubiquitous-Based Test Centre has been built on the premises of the Vocational and Skill Development Training Centre at Bhainsepati of Lalitpur.
Recently, Kim was here to inaugurate the UBT Building. Ballav Dahal and Laxman Kafle of The Rising Nepal caught up with Kim to talk about issues related to the bilateral labour agreement and prospects of foreign employment for Nepali workers in Korea. Excerpts:
What was the purpose of your current visit to Nepal?
Human Resources Development Service of Korea (HRD Korea) through the Employment Permit System (EPS) selects foreign workers necessary for industrial sites in Korea, monitors the sending process, and supports foreign workers to get job in Korea more transparently and efficiently. In regard to EPS, Nepal is an important partner country. Among 16 EPS countries, Nepal is the first nation to build a UBT (Ubiquitous-Based Test) centre for selection of workers in a fair manner.
With the operation of this new facility, the exam techniques will be more advanced than earlier paper-based test (PBT) and computer-based test (CBT) systems.
What is the contribution of HRD Korea in having this UBT centre?
This facility has been built as per the labour agreement signed between Nepal and the Republic of Korea (RoK) in 2007. The Government of Nepal has arranged the land and made investment in the construction of this infrastructure. The Korean Government has managed interior facilities, including installing smart devices, for conducting tests in a transparent and credible way. The newly-operated test centre is expected to be an important milestone to hire workers in a fair manner in the coming days. We hope that the aspiration of increasing number of Nepali youths work in Korea will materialise.
COVID-19 had taken its toll on global economy for almost three years. The Korean government also had to stop hiring foreign workforce as the protracted pandemic hit the economy. How is the situation there now?
Due to COVID-19, the entry of foreign workers was temporarily suspended, but now the entry is normal. At present, more foreign workers are entering Korea than before the pandemic. In 2022, around 14,000 workers entered Korea from Nepal alone. The total number of Nepali workers who have entered Korea under EPS stood at 80,161 by 2022. About 37,000 workers are still working in Korea.
The Republic of Korea (RoK) has greatly supported the socio-economic development of Nepal by providing safe and high value employment for thousands of Nepali youths annually.
Korean employers prefer hiring Nepali workers because they work diligently and the illegal stay rate is also low. Due to the high Korean language competition rate, excellent young people from Nepal go to Korea, and also the employers’ satisfaction is high because Nepalis adapt to the work requirements quickly.
Which types of workers are in high demand in the RoK?
Nepali workers are mainly selected for agriculture and livestock industries and manufacturing industries. About 80 per cent of the total Nepali workers who have gone to Korea are absorbed in the manufacturing industries while the remaining 20 per cent in the agriculture and livestock sector. However, recently Nepali workers are preferred more in the agricultural and livestock sector.
Is your esteemed organisation facing any obstacles and challenges while working with the Nepal government? Please highlight them, if any.
Due to COVID-19, securing direct flights and prior quarantine measures resulted in difficulties in sending Nepali workers. But now, with the active cooperation of Nepal's Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, the sending period has shortened and the MoU renewal between the two countries was made. Last year, with the active support of the Nepal government, out of 16 countries the largest number of workers from Nepal were able to enter Korea.
The employment opportunity in Korea has also become helpful for technology transfer. What sort of role is your organisation playing in this connection?
Through the support programme of HRD Korea, foreign workers who are willing to take vocational training and Korean language education are provided with such trainings/education after entering Korea. In the future, we are planning to support start-up programmes for Nepali returnees.
How has the government been supporting Nepali immigrants returning from Korea?
A step-by-step support system reinforcement project for the stable resettlement of Nepali workers returning from Korea is being promoted in cooperation with the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). This project helps Nepalis returning from Korea to adapt and provides technical training and economic support. This project scheduled to be launched for Nepali returnees for the first time among 16 EPS countries.
It is promoted throughout the employment lifecycle of returning workers (pre-migration - migration - post-migration) and includes various elements such as information provision, education, and operation of start-up funds. In the pre-migration stage, we can help Nepal establish a plan for successful resettlement, starting with pre-employment training, and increase the utilization of knowledge and skills acquired in Korea. We plan to provide financial education for families of Nepali workers before and after entering Korea.
The RoK is reported to have been facing problems concerning illegal migrant workers. What kind of policy has the Korean government adopted to deal with such issues?
A pan-governmental crackdown is being conducted on illegal aliens. Nepalis have a relatively low rate of illegal stay. To prevent illegal stay, the head of Nepal EPS Centre conducts pre-employment training before entering the country, and encourages voluntary return through resettlement support programmes for returnee workers.
With the hiring of more Nepali migrant workers in the RoK, the bilateral relations have been enhanced at the people-to-people level as well. Finally, would you like to add anything more to this, please?
We plan to hire 120,000 foreign workers (from 16 countries) in 2023. We hope for necessary support from the Nepal government and related organisations in regard to Employment Permit System so that more Nepali youths can fulfill their dreams and aspirations of Korea.