Koreans from China suffer workplace deaths

Ethnic Koreans from China tend to put their lives at risk by undertaking dirty and dangerous work in South Korea, often illegally

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 August, 2013, 2:18am

Two deadly industrial accidents in South Korea last month in which Korean-Chinese labourers were among those killed has raised concerns over the treatment of this class of migrant workers in the country.

On Tuesday, Seoul police said two workers were crushed to death when a 47-metre steel structure and heavy equipment fell from an entrance ramp that was under construction at Seoul's Banghwa bridge.

Another worker was wounded while a fourth was unhurt. All four labourers held Chinese nationality.

Two weeks ago, seven workers - three of them Korean-Chinese - died after being trapped in a flooded underground water distribution reservoir in Noryangjin.

Korean-Chinese labourers often take dirty and dangerous jobs shunned by South Koreans and work in poor conditions without proper safety training. That's because most are believed to be working illegally, local media reported following the recent deaths.


South Korea has been issuing H-2 working visitor visas to ethnic Koreans from China and countries of the former Soviet Union since 2007. Around 230,000 H-2 visas had been issued by June this year.

H-2 visa holders are required to go through employment training approved by the labour ministry before seeking a job.

In reality, many forgo this step to save money and time and decide to work illegally.

Construction industry insiders estimate that their sector alone hires some 300,000 legal and illegal Korean-Chinese workers.

Korean-Chinese labourers cost less. While South Korean labourers avoid difficult tasks, Korean-Chinese have a goal to earn money, so they take even arduous jobs
Labour Ministry's Yoon Young-soon

South Korean employers, some argue, hire ethnic Koreans without work permits because their illegal status would prevent them from protesting and demanding better treatment.

"Korean-Chinese labourers cost less. While South Korean labourers avoid difficult tasks, Korean-Chinese have a goal to earn money, so they take even arduous jobs," the director of foreign workforce policy at the Labour Ministry, Yoon Young-soon, told the News 1 online website.

Moreover, as most of them lack any specialised skills, they get assigned to do dangerous work, exposing them to harm.

The South Korean government has come under fire for its lack of oversight and its discriminatory policy on visas for overseas Koreans.

Ethnic Koreans from industrialised countries, including the United States or Japan, can apply for an F-4 working visa if they can show that at least one of their parents or grandparents has South Korean citizenship.

But Korean-Chinese applicants for the F-4 visa need to prove they have government-recognised licences for their skills, work at the management level for a corporation or own a private business with sales of over US$100,000 (HK$776,000).

Because Korean-Chinese have restrictive visas, or no documentation, they tend to take whatever jobs they can to make as much money to send home.

Granting ethnic Koreans of other nationalities F-4 visas might allow them to seek more stable jobs and assert their rights.



Send to a friend

To forward this article using your default email client (e.g. Outlook), click here.

Enter multiple addresses separated by commas(,)

For unlimited access to: SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive