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2015-02-16 16:59
By Jung Min-ho 

The Ministry of Justice last week announced that foreigners with a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering are now eligible for permanent residency in Korea if they have lived here for more than three years and their annual salary is higher than $27,000.

However, the ministry failed to clarify that those who seek permanent residency are required to have regular employee status at the company they work for.

This provision has raised the bar sufficiently to block many skilled foreigners from taking advantage of the new visa rules.

“This is next to impossible in Korea and therefore makes these changes only relevant to a very small percentage of foreigners here,” an American national, who has lived in Korea for eight years, told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity.

“The government eased the rules but tell me how many foreigners here have permanent positions? Every foreigner I know here is on contract,” said Zaffar Khan, a Ph.D. student from Pakistan. “Their contracts may be renewed automatically but they still are contractual employees.”

Also, thanks to the policy change, those who earned a master’s or a higher degree in Korea are eligible to get permanent residency regardless of their majors, if they lived in Korea more than three years and their annual salary is higher than $27,000.

But the chance is not much different for those who are highly educated.

According to the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education & Training last month, 54.6 percent of foreigners who earned their doctorate from here ended up with a job in Korea or abroad.

Among the graduates who landed a job here, only 36.4 percent are permanent workers.

Ironically, most Korean companies require foreigners to have a permanent residency or Korean citizenship in order to be hired as permanent workers.

“Over the past 60 years, we have never hired any foreigner as a permanent worker. All of them have been on contract,” a human resources manager at a publishing company said. “I believe there are only few exceptions.”

Many foreigners complain that the ministry came up with the policy without understanding how difficult it is for them to earn permanent residency.

When asked about the problem, a ministry official evaded the question, replying, “The procedure of deciding who receives permanent residency should be strict.”

No one denies that. But the ministry should have made clear the critical information when it announced the policy last week, to prevent confusion.

Some foreigners also questioned if the ministry had any intention to inform foreigners of the information in the first place.

“The release about visa changes for foreigners was released in Korean only. That means 99 percent of foreigners won’t see it,” the anonymous American said. “It seems as though they don’t want people knowing.”

Getting the right to stay in Korea permanently still remains a distant dream for many skilled foreigners, despite the visa changes.

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