|A Filipino migrant worker Alvin, second from left, in a scene from "Banana Shake," part of 2011 Korean omnibus film "If You Were Me." Courtesy of National Human Rights Commission of Korea|
By Ko Dong-hwan
Small to medium companies (SMEs) in Korea, relying heavily on migrant labor, are short of workers due to COVID-19, a survey shows.
According to 1,062 local SMEs that applied this year to the central government for more foreign workers with E-9 working visas for unprofessional labor, 52 percent responded to the Korea Federation of SMEs' survey that their production pipelines were affected by lack of workers.
The shortage of migrant workers was due to the pandemic that had restricted entry from overseas from earlier this year to prevent the virus spreading.
During the first half of this year, about 2,000 migrant workers with the visas arrived, according to Chosun Ilbo citing the Ministry of Labor and Employment. That is just 7 percent of the ministry's estimate of workers' arrivals this year. The figure also is much fewer than the average annual figure of 26,000 from 2015-19.
Since Mar. 26, when the pandemic's local spread intensified, the country has had zero migrant workers with the visa, the daily said.
Some Korean firms that applied for workers as early as January this year were still pushed back by the ministry by the end of June because of the empty pool. The firms say they are so desperate to fill the void that they must hire more expensive Korean hands but the labor positions available do not attract the Koreans.
One SME owner said that although restricting foreigners may be required to prevent the pandemic spreading, it was also important to make an exception for some migrant workers so production at SMEs did not grind to stop.