• Searching for Seoul



    MORE and less: that’s what I discovered in last week’s visit to Seoul, 190 kilometers from a ‘supreme’ threat.

    Kyumin Lim has witnessed the decline of tourists to Seoul and South Korea since US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un traded personal insults. Words apparently are indeed sharper than swords, or in the case of Pyongyang – missiles.

    Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) statistics agree with Kyumin who was recently married. He had been ferrying visitors (“mostly Chinese, Malaysians, Vietnamese and some Filipinos”) almost daily for more than seven years.

    KTO official numbers show that in August this year, there were less visitors (890,001) compared to last year’s total—1,443,009.

    Despite the popularity in the Philippines of a telenovela—“Moonlight Sonata” or “Winter Sonata,” filmed on Nami Island about an hour’s drive from Old Seoul downtown— the number of Filipino visitors to South Korea decreased from 50,134 to 31,020.

    Namiseom Island was formed because of the construction of Cheongpyeong Dam. However, the half-moon shaped isle was named after General Nami “who led a great victory against the rebels in the 13th year of the 7th king of the Joseon Dynasty, King Sejo (reign 1455-1468).” General Nami’s grave is on the island.

    South Korea is among the world’s most ethnically homogeneous nations, and has remained so despite being open to foreign influence, opening its economy to international finance and ultimately becoming a leader in IT and consumer electronics – Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Kia, among the more famous names known to Filipinos and the world.

    In 2015, official government census showed 1,741,919 total foreign residents in Korea in 2015, compared to 1,576,034 in 2013. The Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs reported that in September 2015, South Korea’s foreign population including migrant workers, increased to 1.8 million, accounting for 3.4 percent of the total population.

    The number includes 47,542 Filipino workers recruited under the Employment Permit System, a bilateral agreement between the Philippines and South Korea signed in 2004. EPS is now on its second recruitment phase.

    However, the Employment Permit System has been depicted by a coalition of 100 lawyers, foreigner and labor rights groups in Koreas as a “modern-day slavery” system since its inception in 2004 to replace the “controversial Industrial Trainee System.”

    The Korean Herald quoted the coalition groups’ statement denouncing the practice on August 17, 2016, that “the system is not different from forced labor of migrant workers.”

    It was only on July 15, 2017 that the Minimum Wage Commission decided to raise the minimum wage from 6,470 won to 7,530 won per hour—at 16.4 percent for the year 2018.

    Points for Permanent Residency in South KoreaKyumin is aware that South Korea’s economy is dominated by a few chaebol and seeing the tourism market’s vulnerability to the North and South conflict, he is now exploring migrating to other countries, like the US or Canada, where social services after working for a specific period would assure the family’s income and health coverage.

    Exchange Rate: Korea has it Won?

    So, despite South Korea’s booming economy—considered the 4th in Asia and 11th in the world— why is there a lag or lull in application for permanent residency, given the fact that permanent residents would have more protection and assured income?

    First, the rules to be eligible to apply are already skewed to be difficult. The following groups of people may apply:

    Those who are adults by Korea’s civil law and have stayed in Korea with F-2 status for more than five years and have the financial capacity to support themselves and their family, and have integrated themselves into Korean society by learning the language and traditions.

    Those who have invested more than US$500,000 in Korea and whose acquisition of permanent residency is deemed proper by the justice minister.

    Overseas Koreans with specific occupations and income that is twice the per capita gross national income, or their property tax levied must be 500,000 won.

    Those whose special contributions have been recognized by the justice minister.

    Ethnic Chinese born in Korea
    Foreign students who received bachelor’s degrees in science or engineering in Korea and who have lived in Korea for three years and have a salary higher than the country’s per-capita GNI.

    Children of eligible persons if they are under the age of 2.

    Applicants for permanent residency must earn enough points. A former editor of the Korean Herald wrote that he had to leave Korea because he does not see himself qualifying particularly due to the difficulty of being considered proficient in the Korean language.

    I was also surprised that more of your money buys less, especially if you compare how much you must pay (with won or peso). Avoiding expensive restaurant fare, I tried the street food. I had to pay 2,000 wons for a bibingka-like delicacy, or 9,300 wons for a raisin Danish and coffee.

    No wonder South Korea has more workers and less tourists.


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