South Korea allows entry of EPS workers from the Philippines, 4 other countries

The South Korean government will now allow the entry of foreign workers (E-9 visa category) under the Employment Permit System (EPS) from the Philippines and four other countries.

Korea’s Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) announced on Nov. 5 that South Korea will ease the restrictions on the entry of foreign workers as the country implements plans to normalize life amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

A "Welcome to Korea" billboard featuring K-pop girl group BLACKPINK at Incheon International Airport in South Korea in 2019 (Jonathan Hicap)

Due to the pandemic, South Korea implemented a ban on the entry of foreign workers last year. As a result, local companies experienced a shortage of workers.

The Philippines is one of the sending countries to South Korea under EPS, a government-to-government program that allows Korean companies to hire foreign workers in sectors such as agriculture, fishery, construction and manufacturing.

The labor ministry said before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 50,000 workers were allowed to enter the country every year but that number dropped to 6,000 to 7,000 due to COVID-19 situation, resulting in labor shortage in industries in South Korea.

As of October 2021, about 50,000 foreign workers with employment permits were waiting in their home countries to enter South Korea due to restrictions.

Under the new rules, workers from the Philippines, Myanmar, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, countries classified by South Korea as high-risk, will be able to get visas 14 days after getting fully vaccinated with World Health Organization (WHO)-approved vaccines in their countries.

In addition, these workers need to show negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results, conducted at hospitals designated by the Korean Embassy, within 72 hours before boarding their flight to South Korea.

Workers from 11 countries--Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Laos, China, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Bangladesh and Indonesia--will be allowed to enter South Korea with the submission only of a negative PCR test result and regardless of their vaccination status. They will be required to get vaccinated in South Korea after their arrival.

Before easing the entry restrictions on foreign workers, South Korea has allowed a limited number of foreign workers from the 11 countries.

According to the labor ministry, all foreign workers, regardless whether they are vaccinated or not, must undergo a 10-day quarantine period upon their arrival in South Korea at a facility operated by the government.

For workers who are fully vaccinated, two people will be allowed to quarantine in one room. For those who are not vaccinated, only one person per room will be allowed.

The labor ministry said the limit of 50 workers per day or 600 a week has been abolished to allow the entry of the 50,000 foreign workers waiting in their home countries.

It added that foreign workers are expected to be able to enter South Korea as early as the end of November when considering the entry procedures such as completing their vaccination in their countries and issuance of visas.