Migrant worker hotspot South Korea has opened another employment sector for Nepali jobseekers under the Employment Permit System (EPS).
Officials say the East Asian country will hire Nepalis to work in shipbuilding too. Currently, they are engaged in the manufacturing and farm sectors only.
Pushpa Raj Katuwal, director of the EPS Korea Section under the Department of Foreign Employment, told the Post that the Human Resource Department of Korea had asked Nepali authorities to select as many as 3,000 individuals in the roster this year for the shipbuilding sector.
“Of the total, as many as 1,210 will be selected from those who have passed the language test for the manufacturing sector, and the rest will be selected through examinations later in the year,” said Katuwal.
The section had recently asked individuals in the roster for manufacturing jobs to switch to shipbuilding. “The deadline for applications has been extended until Wednesday as there were only 742 takers so far.”
Candidates who clear both the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) and the skill test are included in the roster.
While both men and women are eligible for shipbuilding work, Katuwal said Korean employers might prefer hiring men like in the manufacturing sector. They will be given welding-related work.
South Korea, one of the leaders in the global shipbuilding market, is seeing a severe labour shortage due to a surge of orders, Business Korea reported earlier this month.
“It is expected to suffer an estimated shortage of 14,000 workers by the end of 2023,” the report said.
Successful candidates will receive two months' training with salary before being put to work in the shipyards, according to Katuwal.
Following this year's pay raise, workers putting in 209 hours a month will earn 2,010,580 won (around Rs200,000).
“The actual salary and benefits in the shipbuilding sector will be revealed once we get the contract for workers, but they might be slightly higher than in the other two sectors,” said Katuwal.
The Korean employers will start selecting their workers next month.
Around 80,000 Nepalis have worked in Korea under the EPS from 2008 to mid-November 2022, according to government data.
Though demand and competition for South Korean jobs have increased, concerns regarding the cost aspiring workers have to bear have often been neglected. Recruitment is done under the government-to-government modality, and workers have to pay all recruitment-related expenses.
Fees for language classes, rent and food costs add to their expenses as most of the job aspirants sit for the examinations in Kathmandu. A large number of candidates invest tens of thousands of rupees every year to compete for a limited number of Korean jobs.
As only a few are selected for the roster, and even fewer might be hired by the employers in a given year, the existing EPS structure leaves many in financial and mental distress, experts say.
In 2019, as many as 92,356 submitted applications and 84,308 sat for TOPIK for around 7,000 positions.
The annual quota for Nepal has remained in a range of 5,000 to 10,000, according to the Nepal Labour Migration Report 2022.
Since 2020, aspiring workers have to pass a skill test too.
Sandesh Pun Magar from Rukum West has been studying Korean at an institute in Kathmandu for the last six months. He came to the capital eight months ago and lives in a hostel in Maitidevi.
The 18-year-old told the Post that his expenses, including the hostel and Korean language fee, have already crossed Rs100,000.
“I paid Rs22,000 for the Korean language course,” said Magar. “I have to pay a monthly rent of Rs11,500 in the hostel.”
Pun receives money from his family back home.
The examination fee is another expense for the candidates. And if they get selected, they have to pay for the visa and their plane ticket.
Concerns have been raised regarding the expensive airfare. According to Katuwal, a seat on a flight to Korea for workers selected under the EPS costs $895 (around Rs118,000).
“The airfare had soared to as high as $1,215 (around Rs160,000) after the pandemic,” said Katuwal.
Before Covid, the airfare set by the government of Nepal was $395 (around Rs52,000).
“After the pandemic, South Korea made it mandatory for migrant workers to take direct flights, which made tickets expensive,” said Katuwal. “The Nepal government can help migrant workers by reaching an agreement with the Korean government for Nepal Airlines to operate a direct service to South Korea.”
A research paper published recently shows that migrant workers going to South Korea are better educated and more well-off than those going to the Gulf and Malaysia, indicating high recruitment and related costs.
The paper entitled "Only a Few Can Afford to Go to Korea: The Costs of Nepali Migration to South Korea" and published by the Centre for Study of Labour and Mobility (CESLAM), Social Science Baha says that individuals would have spent Rs20,000 to Rs200,000 from the time they start language classes till they appear for TOPIK.
Jeevan Baniya, assistant director at the CESLAM and one of the authors of the paper, told the Post that there was a need to evaluate and bring down the financial and social costs for securing South Korean jobs.
“Along with the recruitment fee, we need to consider the related costs for preparation of the language test to understand the actual investment an individual makes in hopes of getting a job in Korea. While the volume of remittance from migrant workers in Korea is relatively higher, the overall cost to achieve it is also high,” said Baniya.
“There is also a stigma attached to those who fail the test even after multiple attempts. Another loss, which is not much discussed, is individuals abandoning their college and university courses to prepare for the language test,” he said.
Published on: 31 May 2023 |The Kathmandu Post