To many Filipinos, South Korea beckons as the new land of opportunity. And the key to the gate of that land is the Employment Permit System (EPS).
The EPS is the South Korean government’s program that allows small-and-medium Korean enterprises to hire foreign workers.
Thousands of Filipinos have found jobs in South Korea through the EPS.
Among them is Mackoy Gordula. In 2007, Gordula learned about the EPS through a fellow worker in a factory at the Export Processing Zone in Cavite.
“I really wanted to go abroad since my salary as a factory worker was not enough for my needs,” said Gordula. “So I took the Korean Language Test and passed.”
That same year, mechanical engineer Emilio Belen decided to try his luck in South Korea after working in South Africa and the Middle East.
After passing the interview in the Philippines, he was hired directly by Korea’s No. 1 conglomerate.
In an interview in Seoul, Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Luis Cruz and Labor Attache Felicitas Bay of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) put the number of Filipinos in South Korea at 48,305 as of November 2011. A quarter of them, or 11,859 Filipinos, are irregular or illegal residents.
They are part of the 1.37 million foreigners who live and work in Korea, based on data from the Korea Immigration Service.
Roughly half of the Filipinos in South Korea, or 25,178, are EPS workers, 21,107 of them men.
The EPS was set up in 2004 as replacement for the Industrial Trainee System (ITS), which allowed unskilled foreign workers into South Korea.
The ITS was scrapped after it became a source of major problems, including the illegal hiring of foreign trainees as workers.
EPS workers are limited to four industries: manufacturing, construction, agriculture and fishery. Jobs in these industries are shunned by Koreans because of the “3Ds”: They are dangerous, difficult and dirty.
Under the EPS, the Korean government, through the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL), deals directly with the other governments in recruiting foreign workers and doing away with private recruitment agencies.
Today, the Korean government has EPS agreements with 15 countries, including the Philippines.
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