Korea needs a Thai fix

South Korea is a popular destination for Thai tourists, the same way that Thailand is for South Koreans. Unfortunately, the tourism relationship between the countries has been damaged by the continuing influx of Thai visitors who end up being overstayers and illegal workers in South Korea.

To solve the problem at its root, South Korea needs to consider a new approach by looking south to see how Thailand tackled a similar problem of a larger size — the huge numbers of illegal migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

Last year, about 26,400 Thais were denied entry at South Korean airports. During the first quarter of this year alone, as many as 10,000 Thai travellers couldn’t get through the immigration gates due to tougher measures applied by South Korea.

Last month, Thai and Korean officials met in Seoul to discuss the issue. They came up with a plan to screen Thai travellers. South Korean authorities will adopt an Electronic Travel Authorisation, an entry requirement system for visa-exempt foreign nationals, for Thai visitors. This is a fresh attempt among several measures introduced in past years which failed to solve the problem.

Illegal Thai workers enter South Korea as tourists travelling in tour groups. Once they enter the country, they disappear from the tour groups. Most of them end up working in farms. Many women find work as masseurs and bar attendants. Many are forced into sex work.

Earlier, the South Korean government offered a six-month grace period for illegal Thai overstayers to report themselves to authorities by March this year. If reported, they will be deported to Thailand without being charged and blacklisted from returning to South Korea. However, only about 15,200 illegal Thai workers, or 10.7% of the estimated number of 143,000, reported themselves to authorities. As a result, Korean immigration has recently tightened the screening of Thai visitors.

The flow of Thai workers flocking into South Korea is mainly driven by the lure of a higher income. They are paid as high as 50,000 baht or more a month in South Korea. In Thailand, the monthly minimum wage is about 9,000 baht.

The shortage of unskilled workers in South Korea has also boosted demand for both legal and illegal migrant workers. Employers can also save costs by paying illegal workers at rates less than the standard wages.

The situation is similar to Thailand’s. The Thai business sector’s demand for unskilled workers here has attracted a large number of illegal workers from neighbouring countries. In the past, officials used to turn a blind eye to the problem and let illegal migrant workers stay to drive the economy. But poor working and living conditions of the workers put Thailand under pressure of criticism over human rights violations.

In 2017, the government decided to register more than 770,000 illegal migrant workers and then allow them to work legally.

This is a win-win solution. Thailand secures an adequate workforce to drive the economy while neighbouring countries gain benefits as a large number of their people send money back home.

South Korea should consider adopting the Thai solution by proceeding with registering and legalising about 360,000 illegal migrant workers there. This policy can be implemented along with other stringent measures such as efforts to counter human trafficking.

This approach would help tighten the relationship between Thailand and South Korea and boost tourism between the two countries.


Source: Bangkok Post
Published on 20 May 2019
Link: https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/1680700/korea-needs-a-thai-fix

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