[Documents menu] Documents menu

Sizeable minority defies worker policy

By Lim Mi-jin, Ko Ran <jackkim@joongang.co.kr>, JoongAng Ilbo, 16 November 2003

Pack up and leave, or hang in there and hope that the authorities will get tired and give up looking? That was the debate in the migrant workers community last weekend, as long lines of people waited at the Incheon International Airport to board planes back home, while others got ready to hide from immigration authorities.

After the government deadline for illegal aliens who did not qualify for employment amnesty came and went over the weekend, there were still about 110,000 persons remaining here illegally.

Many say they have yet to realize the Korean dream and are still a long way from saving up enough to make their stay here worthwhile. They are opting to take their chances despite the ominous punishment that awaits them if they are caught: a maximum fine of 20 million won ($17,000) and deportation, or three years in jail. They would also be barred from re-entry to Korea for the next five years. Businesses that employ illegal aliens now face the same penalty.

The enforcement action begins today, focusing on people who were smuggled into the country or entered with false travel documents, those working in the service or entertainment industries and others who have been here illegally for over four years. But the Justice Ministry said yesterday that workers at small manufacturing businesses will be exempt from deportation until next June. The ministry said the reprieve was to ease the pain of that labor-short sector.

A man who gave his name as Ali could not hide his disappointment as he left for Bangladesh after 12 years in Seoul, most of the time working at an automobile parts factory southwest of Seoul, and was able to save quite a bit of money. I’m happy about my life in Korea, he said.

Another Bangladeshi, preparing to board a flight back home, said he hoped to return to Korea one day, but was not sure how to save the 13 million won he would need to pay a broker for new papers.