South Korea to Double Cambodian Migrant Worker Permits

The South Korean government will double the number of Cambodian migrant workers who are granted permits to take up employment in the country’s manufacturing, construction and agriculture sectors each year, officials said on Monday.

There are currently more than 35,000 Cambodians working in South Korea who send home remittances of about $200 million annually. Last year, Seoul set a quota of 4,600 permits for Cambodian laborers entering the country, according to embassy officials.

Following the first meeting at the National Assembly between newly appointed South Korean Ambassador Kim Weon-jin and Assembly President Heng Samrin on Monday, Mr. Samrin’s cabinet chief Keo Piseth said that South Korea had agreed to begin accepting twice as many Cambodian workers.

“Now, the Korean government has decided to double the quota of laborers,” Mr. Piseth quoted Mr. Kim as saying in the closed-door meeting.

Kim Hye-won, second secretary at the South Korean Embassy in Phnom Penh, said that while the final quota had not been decided, it was expected to rise significantly.

“The specific number is not yet available—it will be released soon—but according to our knowledge, the number will be greatly increased,” Ms. Kim said, adding that the number of permits offered varied each year depending on the needs of South Korean industries.

“The Cambodian government has expressed a desire to increase the number of workers on many occasions and the Korean government has taken this into consideration,” she added.

But according to Amnesty International, many migrants who end up working in South Korea’s agriculture industry are subject to abuse.

In a report last year, Amnesty said workers in the industry, including many from Cambodia, are underpaid and exploited through contracts that force them to work excessive hours and live in squalid conditions.

Besides the expected growth in the number of Cambodians moving to South Korea, Ms. Kim said, traffic in the other direction was also on the rise. South Korea, which currently rents the building that houses its Phnom Penh embassy, is constructing a new embassy on Koh Pich island, she said.

“Cambodia is an important country and Korea’s presence is getting larger here, so we think we need our own embassy to reflect this,” she said, adding that the country was also considering opening a consulate in Siem Reap province.

Between January and November last year, 387,000 South Korean tourists visited Cambodia—nearly 10 percent of all tourists.

(Additional reporting by Maria Paula Brito)

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