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I. Introduction

A foreigner must have a valid passport and a visa before entering the Republic of Korea (South Korea, hereinafter “Korea”).[1]  When a foreigner arrives in Korea, he or she undergoes an entry inspection conducted by an immigration control official.[2]  Upon granting entry permission to a foreigner, the immigration control official grants the foreigner “status of sojourn” and determines the period of sojourn.[3]  Foreigners seeking employment during their stay in Korea must have a visa that allows employment and may only work in workplaces designated by a local or district immigration office.[4]

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II.  Eligibility for Admission as a Temporary Worker

A.  Visit and Employment (H-2)

As Korea’s economy developed in the late 20th century, Korea experienced a shortage of low-skilled workers.[5]  At first, Korea accepted ethnic Koreans who were Chinese nationals to fill “the labor shortages in various manual sectors including the manufacturing and construction industries.”[6]  In 2007, the Ministry of Justice introduced the Work Visit (H-2) visa, which granted multiple entries and work permits for ethnic Koreans with foreign citizenship.[7]  Persons twenty-five years or older who had previously emigrated abroad are eligible for this sojourn status, as are their lineal descendants.[8]  Employment is permitted only in the industrial fields specified in the Enforcement Decree of Immigration Control Act, such as agriculture, small- and medium-sized manufacturing, construction, or the service industry.[9]   

Foreign workers with Working Visit (H-2) visas must attend foreigner employment training conducted by the designated institution.[10]  They then submit a foreign worker’s job-search application to the head of a job center.[11]  Employers who wish to hire foreign workers must choose them from among foreigners registered on the list of foreign workers and recommended by an employment security office in Korea.[12]  A foreign worker and an employer may conclude an employment agreement for a period of up to three years.[13]  

B.  Non-professional Employment (E-9)

In the early 1990s, Korea established the Industrial Training System, in which temporary foreign workers were treated as trainees rather than as legal laborers.  Undocumented workers increased under this system, so an Employment Permit System replaced the Industrial Training System in 2004.[14]  The “Non-professional Employment (E-9)” visa was created as part of this system.[15]  The new system allows employers who have been unable to hire local workers to legally employ foreign workers.[16] 

For the “[t]ransparency of the foreign workforce selection and introduction process, and prevention of corruption practices and anomalies in the sending process,” a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by Korea and the government of each country that sends workers is required for the Employment Permit System.[17]  The introduction and selection of foreign workers are administered based on these MOU.  There is no intermediation by recruitment agencies.[18]

Eligible foreign workers “may be employed in businesses the size and industry of which shall be determined by the Minister of Labor through the Foreign Workers Introduction Plan.”[19]  The system allows employers who employ less than 300 regular workers to hire foreign workers in industries with labor shortages, such as agriculture and stockbreeding, fisheries, construction, and manufacturing.  The procedure for nonprofessional foreign workers to

  • register on the list of foreigners seeking jobs;
  • be chosen by an employer and obtain a permit;
  • sign a labor contract;
  • apply for visa;
  • enter the country; and
  • complete the foreigner employment training.[20]

Foreigners intending to be registered on the list of foreign workers must meet the conditions for selection, which include Korean language proficiency.[21]  Employers who wish to hire foreign workers must choose them from among foreigners registered on the list of foreign workers and recommended by an employment security office in Korea.[22]  After an employer has chosen an employee, the employment security office issues an employment permit to the employer.[23]  Then, the employer and the foreigner enter into a contract.[24]  The employer applies for a Certificate for Confirmation of Visa Issuance (CCVI) for the worker to the Korean Ministry of Justice (MOJ).[25]  

When a foreign worker enters Korea, he or she must meet a Korean government official at the airport and go to an Employment Training Center.  Foreign workers must complete Employment Training before starting work under the employer.[26]

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III.  Visa Conditions

The number of foreign workers that may be hired by an employer is specified in the annual foreign worker introduction plan announced by the Ministry of Employment and Labor.[27]  The types of businesses or number of foreign workers that may be introduced for each country that has signed a workforce dispatch MOU with Korea is also announced by the plan.[28]

H-2 foreign workers are not tied to their employer and do not have to obtain a permit from the Minister of Justice.[29]  However, a certain procedure must be followed to change employers.  The foreign worker must apply to a job center for a change of workplace within one month of the termination or expiration of the employment agreement.[30]  E-9 foreign workers can work only at the designated working place.[31]  If they intend to change or add a workplace, they must obtain prior permission from the Minister of Justice.[32] 

Foreign workers’ employment periods are, in general, limited to three years.[33]  The employment period can be extended only once for up to two years.[34]  A path exists for H-2 status holders to become permanent residents, but not for E-9 status holders.[35]

Overseas Koreans who have obtained H-2 status are allowed to invite family members, depending on their employment period.[36]

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Prepared by Sayuri Umeda
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
February 2013

[1] Churipkuk kwalli pop [Immigration Control Act], Act No. 4522, Dec. 8, 1992, last amended by Act No. 10282, May 14, 2010, art. 7, para. 1.

[2] Id. art. 12, para. 1.

[3] Id. art. 12, para. 5.

[4] Id. art. 17, para. 1 & art. 18, para. 1.  See also, General Affairs, Hi Korea, (last visited Feb. 21, 2013).

[5] Haerim Cho, Immigration Policy and Settlement Patterns of Migrants in South Korea and Singapore, (PSA Conference 2011, Apr. 19–21, 2011), at 8,

[6] Id.

[7] Churipkuk kwallipop sihaeng ryung [Enforcement Decree of Immigration Control Act], Presidential Decree No. 13872, Mar. 30, 1993, amended by Presidential Decree No. 19904, Feb. 28, 2007, art. 23 & Table 1, item 31.

[8] IdSee also, Act on Immigration and Legal Status of Overseas Koreans, Act No. 6015, Sept. 2, 1999, last amended by Act No. 10543, Apr. 5, 2011, art. 2, subpara. 2.

[9]  Enforcement Decree of Immigration Control Act, Presidential Decree No. 13872, Mar. 30, 1993, last amended by No. 22483, Nov. 15, 2010, Table 1, item 31.

[10] Oegugin Keunroja ui koyoung dung e kwanhan popryul [Act on the Employment, etc. of Foreign Workers (Foreign Workers Employment Act)], Act No. 6967, Aug. 16, 2003, last amended by Act No. 10339, June 4, 2010, art. 11.  See also, Employment Procedures Concerning Working Visit (H-2) Visa Holders, Ministry of Government Legislation (Oct. 15, 2012), 665&ccfNo=3&cciNo=2&cnpClsNo=2.

[11] Foreign Workers Employment Act art. 12, para. 2. 

[12] Id. art. 8, paras. 3 & 4.

[13] Id. art. 9, para. 3

[14] Id

[15] Enforcement Decree of Immigration Control Act art. 23 & Table 1, item 25-3.

[16] Foreign Workers Employment Act arts. 6 & 8, para. 1.

[17] Introduction of Employment Permit System, Employment Permit System, (click on “Introduction of Employment Permit System” under “Overview” tab at the top of the page) (last visited Feb. 26, 2013).

[18] Foreign Workers Employment Act art. 8, para. 6.

[19] Id. arts. 4 & 5.

[20] Non-professional Employment (E-9) Visa Holders’ Employment Procedure, Ministry of Government Legislation (Oct. 15, 2012), 3&cciNo=2&cnpClsNo=1.

[21] Foreign Workers Employment Act art. 7, para. 2.

[22] Id. art. 8, paras. 3 & 4.

[23] Id. art. 8, para. 4.

[24] Id. art. 9.

[25] Id. art. 10.

[26] Id. art. 11.  See also, Ministry of Government Legislation, supra note 20.

[27] Id. art. 5, para. 1. 

[28] Id.  See also, Businesses and Number of Foreign Worker Introduction, Ministry of Government Legislation (Oct. 15, 2012), 1&cnpClsNo=2.

[29] Foreign Workers Employment Actart. 12, para. 7; Immigration Control Act art. 21.

[30] Foreign Workers’ Employment Act art. 25, paras. 1 & 3.

[31] Immigration Control Act art. 18, para. 2.

[32] Id. art. 21.

[33] Foreign Workers Employment Act art. 18, para. 1.

[34] Id. art. 18-2, para. 1.

[35] Enforcement Decree of Immigration Control Act art. 23 & Table 1, item 28-3.

[36] Cho, supra note 5, at 9.

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