The scope of the activities and employment opportunities open to foreign nationals in Korea is relatively broad, but the activities and period of stay may be limited depending on the type of visa issued.
There are two types of permission for sojourn: one which allows you to have a job, and another which does not.
Visas allowing you to work in Korea
Work visas include: Temporary Employment (C-4), Specialized Professions (E-1~7), Training Employment (E-8), Non-professional Employment (E-9), Labor Abroad (E-10), Working Holiday (H-1), Residency (F-2), Overseas Koreans (F-4), Permanent Residency (F-5).
Ministry of Employment and Labor
Human Resources Development Service
Immigration Contact Center
Temporary employment (C-4)
Sojourn period of not longer than 90 days.Temporary activities relating to entertainment, ad, fashion model, lecture, research, technology coaching.
Specialized professions (E-1~E-7)
Specialized professions, as stipulated by the Immigration Office, are as follows:
- Professor (E-1) : Sojourn period of not longer than 2 years
- Foreign Language Teaching (E-2) : Sojourn period of not longer than a year
- Research (E-3) : Sojourn period of not longer than 2 years
- Profession (E-5) : Sojourn period of not longer than 2 years
- Arts/Entertainment (E-6) : Sojourn period of not longer than 6 moths
- Specially Designated Activities (E-7) : Sojourn period of not longer than 2 years
Training Employment (E-8)
Foreign nationals can apply for an E-8 visa after successfully completing a year of training and proper education. Once the training is complete, the trainee (D-3 holder) may apply to have his/her visa changed to an E-8 visa and become eligible for 2 years of employment in Korea.
The spouse of a person who has obtained the status of sojourn or refugee may work freely in Korea.
Overseas Koreans (F-4)
This status is granted to one who used to have Korean nationality, but now has a foreign nationality, or to one whose parent or grandparent used to have Korean nationality, but who now has a foreign nationality. The holder is allowed to work, except for simple labor or speculation, for up to 2 years in Korea.
Permanent Residency (F-5)
This status may be granted to nationals of such countries as Australia, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand which have signed a treaty or MOU on working holiday visas with South Korea to allow them to work for a short term to pay for their travel expenses. A holder of this visa can stay in the country for up to a year.
Non-professional Employment (E-9)
.Holders of this visa should sign an employment contract, undergo employment education prior to commencement of employment, and subscribe to an insurance covering airfare for return home and work-related injury. Holders of this visa may work in Korea for up to 3 years. As for re-employment, holders may be re-employed once (up to 2 years) under the new reemployment system. If the current employer applies for the re-employment of such a person during a relevant period (i.e. 30 days through 90 days before the expiry of the approved period of stay), the person may continue to work without leaving the country.
Working Visitor (H-2)
Foreign nationals looking for employment opportunities in Korea with an H-2 visa must complete an education/training course at institution designated by the Ministry of Labor. After notifying the Immigration Office of their status as an employment seeker, they can then contact the employment support center. H-2 visa holders can only work at places with a special employment possibility certified designation given by the Minister of the Ministry of Labor. Furthermore, upon finding employment, an H-2 holder must notify the Immigration Office of this change within 14 days of commencing said employment.
Holders of this visa are allowed to engage in part-time work that does not go beyond the primary purpose of the visa (study).
Visiting or joining family (F-1)
Holders of this visa may work by obtaining approval for an activity that goes beyond the status of sojourn if working is recognized as necessary to raise a child born between Korean parents or to support Korean parents or family or to earn a living for oneself or family.
Since August 2005, the Human Resources Development Service of Korea (HRD) has administered the Employment Permit System-Test of Proficiency in Korean (EPS-TOPIK) to recruit migrant workers more fairly and transparently and to help them adapt to life in the country as quickly as possible.
Eligibility to sit the test
- Persons aged between 18 and 39
- Persons with no criminal record
- Persons who have not been forced to leave Korea in the past
- No restrictions put on departure
Criteria for evaluation
- Basic communication ability required to live in Korea
- Basic knowledge of industrial safety and understanding of Korean culture
Criteria for selection
- Those with the highest score are selected from among those who obtained 80 points or higher from a highest possible score of 200 points
- The score is valid for 2 years.
2List of migrant workers who passed EPS-TOPIK
The HRD makes and manages the list of migrant workers who have passed EPS-TOPIK and applied for jobs after review to confirm that each of them meets the basic requirements.
3Signing a standard employment contract
A Korean business selects a migrant worker introduced by the employment support center. The business selects an agent in a foreign country that will sign an employment contract on behalf of the worker. The relevant agency sends a standard employment contract to the worker-dispatching institution, which then checks whether the worker consents to the contents of the contract and sends the standard employment contract to Korea.
※ The Korean business (the employer) receives the standard employment contract taking over the worker. The migrant worker receives his/her portion of the standard employment contract from the worker-dispatching institution.
- Probation period : Up to 3 months (from the day the term of employment starts under the standard employment contract)
- The probation period is part of the employment period. Under The Labor Standards Act, the employer should treat both probationary workers and regular workers equally in terms of working conditions, excepting the minimum hourly wage. A probationary worker is paid a sum equal to 90% of the minimum hourly wage of regular workers.
- The employer is not allowed to lower the working conditions, including the wage, stipulated in the employment contract after the probation period.
The HRD carries out pre-employment education for migrant workers who have signed an employment contract to help them adapt to the local situation in Korea as early as possible. The pre-employment education period lasts from one to 2.5 weeks, depending on the worker’s EPS-TOPIK score.
5Arrival in Korea and employment education
igrant workers should obtain an E-9/Non-professional employment visa from the ROK Embassy in their country and leave for Korea under the guidance of the worker-dispatching institution. Upon arrival in Korea, they are obliged to attend a 16-hour (3-day) education session.
6Commencement of employment
Each migrant worker is taken by the future employer from the education facility, whereupon the term of employment commences.
- In principle, a migrant worker should continue to work at the agreed workplace.
- However, when it is judged that the normal employee-employer relationship is hard to maintain due to a problem with the employer, such as a delay of wage payment, the relevant worker will be allowed to transfer to another workplace for up to three occasions in connection with the need to protect the worker’s rights.
Justifiable reasons for transfer to another workplace
- When the employer has cancelled, or refuses to extend, the employment contract for a legitimate reason;
- When a worker is unable to work any longer at the existing workplace due to a reason for which he/she is not responsible, such as (temporary) closure of the workplace;
- When the employer is subject to cancellation of, or restrictions on, the permit granted for employment of migrant workers due to the use of violence, human rights infringement, delays in wage payment, aggravation of working conditions;
- When a worker is unable to continue working at the existing workplace due to injury, but is able to work elsewhere despite the injury;
- Acts that hinder or interfere with the current status of employment of a migrant worker or his/her transfer to another workplace for a justifiable reason are punishable with imprisonment (with/without hard labor) for not longer than one year or with a fine not exceeding 10 million won.
Upon termination of the employment relationship at the existing workplace, the migrant worker should submit the application for transfer to another workplace to the employment support center within one month of the end of the employment relationship and try to find another workplace with the help of the Center within 3 months. If he/she cannot find a new workplace within 3 months, he/she should leave the country.
※ No persons other than the personnel of the employment support center should be involved in the selection, introduction or recruitment of a migrant worker. A person who violates this regulation is punishable with imprisonment (with/without hard labor) for not longer than one year or a fine not exceeding 10 million won. (The Act on the Employment, etc. of Foreign Workers, Article 29)
1Entry with H-2 visa/Working visit
A Korean national residing in a foreign country may visit the home country by obtaining an H-2 visa/Working visit at the ROK Embassy in that country. A Korean national (aged 25 or above) with foreign nationality visiting a relative in Korea on an F1~F4 visa (Visiting or joining family/Resident/Accompanying spouse/Overseas Korean) may change his/her visa status to the H-2 visa at the Immigration Control Office.
※ Those falling under the category of “special cases of employment” (The Act on the Employment, etc. of Foreign Workers, the Enforcement Decree, Article 10) are persons eligible for an H-2 visa.
When migrant workers of special cases intend to work in a sector permitted to them, such as the service sector, they should undergo the pertinent employment education provided at the relevant institution (i.e. the HRD) prior to submittal of the application.
They may attend such employment education session prior to alien registration at the Ministry of Justice.
- Alien registration at the Ministry of Justice should be done within 90 days of arrival in Korea.
- Those whose previous F1~F4 visa (Visiting or joining family/Resident/Accompanying spouse/Overseas Korean) was changed to an H-2 visa may apply for a job after attending the relevant employment education.
Employment education for Koreans with foreign citizenship
- Those eligible : H-2 holders who wish to find a job in a sector in which the Foreign Workforce Policy Committee allows migrant workers to work.
- Contents : 16 hours (3 days) – Korean language; understanding of Korean culture; labor-related laws such as the Employment Permit System or The Labor Standards Act; essential information, knowledge of which is required to adapt to life in Korea; subscription to the relevant insurance premium
- Expenses to be paid by worker : Camp training 148,000 won Non-Camp training 102,000won
- How to submit application :
Submit the application by mail or fax or in person to a branch of the HRD
- Education institution :
The HRD (Phone: +82-1577-0071)
Migrant workers of special cases who intend to work in a sector permitted to them, such as the service sector, should apply for a job through the Employment Support Center. They may also apply for a job through a migrant worker employment education institution at the time of employment education. Such an application is valid for one year.
Migrant workers of special cases may find a workplace either through the Employment Support Center or for themselves.
4Signing a standard employment contract
The use of a standard employment contract form helps prevent disputes between employee and employer, protect migrant workers’ rights, and ensure they comply with labor-related laws. Upon reaching things like an agreement contract period, location of workplace, work contents, work hours, recess hours, holidays, wage, etc., the two sides sign a standard employment contract (form: Schedule 6).
※ An employer who wishes to sign a standard employment contract with a migrant worker of a special case should obtain a letter of confirmation of recruitment of such a worker.
5Report on commencement of employment
Upon signing a standard employment contract with a migrant worker of a special case, the employer should report it to the Employment Support Center within 10 days. The migrant worker should report it to the Immigration Control Office within 14 days.
Foreign nationals residing in Korea are protected under the same labor laws as Korean workers. For more information on labor laws and regulations visit the below website.
Ministry of Employment and Labor
All pregnant women are entitled to a leave of absence to prepare for, and recuperate from, the birth of their child. A minimum of 45 days must be granted both before and after birth, totaling 90 days’ paid leave. This leave of absence should start approximately 45 days prior to the expected date of birth. If the birth is delayed the employer must still provide at least 45 days worth of payment after the birth of the child, in order to allow the employee to recuperate.
Furthermore, if an employee is pregnant for 16 weeks or more, has an abortion, or gives birth to a stillborn child, then, depending on the length of the pregnancy, the employer must provide 30 to 90 days’ leave of absence.
Eligibility for maternity leave
Since 2008, companies are legally obligated to permit not only pregnant employees but also their husbands to take maternity leave. The term of maternity leave is three days. An employee must apply for maternity leave within 30 days of his wife giving birth. Payment for the duration of leave are not mandatory for male employees. If a company refuses to grant leave, it may be fined up to 10,000,000 won, or the person responsible may be sentenced to 2 years in prison.
Maternity leave pay period and amount
A worker at an enterprise who is eligible for preferential support upon giving birth to a child should be paid 90 days’ of wages from the employment insurance. The first 60 days are to be calculated based on the regular wage by the employer. The remaining 30 days are covered by the unemployment insurance coverage.
The amount of maternity leave pay is paid based on the worker’s ordinary wage on the first day of the said leave, but it should not exceed 4.05 million won for the 90 days.
If the amount of ordinary wage for a worker exceeds 1.35 million won per month, the employer should pay the difference.
- Regular wage :
Refers to the fixed income promised to the employee based on a set amount of hours as outlined under the contract agreed upon by both employer and employee.
Applying for a maternity leave grant
Employees have up to 12 months after the end of their maternity leave to obtain a maternity leave confirmation document from their employer. The confirmation document and application form should be submitted to an employment support center. However, it is important to note that an application for a maternity leave grant after the specified 12-month period will invalidate the employee’s eligibility to receive the grant.
Child Rearing Leave
What is child rearing leave?
Employees with a child aged 3 years or younger can take at least 30 days leave for child rearing purposes.
Eligibility for maternity leave
- An employee with a child aged less than 3 years and who has worked at the workplace for more than one year
- An employee whose spouse has not applied for child rearing leave for the said child
- Statutory maternity leave period: One year
Applying for child rearing leave
- An insured employee can receive a grant to take at least 30 days leave of absence from work.
- If an employee applies for child rearing leave after the deadline for application (30 days in advance), the employer may designate the first day of the said leave within 30 days of the application.
- If an employee wants to extend the child rearing leave period, he/she should inform the employer thereof at least 30 days in advance of the period. Such an extension is allowed only once.
Child rearing leave period and amount
- Eligibility : The relevant employee’s spouse (i.e. the insured) should not have used child rearing leave concerning the said child and the insurance period should be at least 180 days by the day before the commencement of the child rearing leave period
- Wage for child rearing leave period :
500,000 won per month (If the period is less than one month, the period is calculated on a pro rata basis. Even if the employer has granted child rearing leave for 2 years, the wage for the child rearing leave period is paid only for one year.)
How to apply for a child rearing grant
- Within the designated period (i.e. for 12 months from one month after the first day of the child rearing leave period), application should be made to the employment support center having jurisdiction over the place of abode or workplace, along with a letter of confirmation of child rearing leave (Only for the first time) and an evidential document concerning the employee’s ordinary wage (wage ledger or employment contract).
- If the person concerned cannot apply for the child rearing grant due to an unavoidable reason (such as acts of God, illness or injury of the relevant employee or spouse or lineal relative), the application may be submitted within 30 days of the termination of the said reason.
- The basic method of wage payment should be by check or cash and given to the employee directly, in its entirety, at least once a month.
- According to the Labor Standards Act, Article 43, if an employer refuses to pay his/her employees, he/she can be prosecuted and criminally charged with a prison sentence of 3 years or less and a maximum fine of 20,000,000 won.
- Foreign workers registered with the Immigration Office are protected by the same Labor Standards Acts as Korean citizens. Illegal aliens residing and working in Korea are provided the same basic protection, regardless of their standing with the Immigration Office.
- Wage Claim Security System : A retired employee who is left without any retirement grants due to the employer’s bankruptcy or any other viable reasons is eligible for grants from the Korea Workers’ Compensation & Welfare Service.
- Wage Claim Security System process : Recognition from the Ministry of Labor and confirmation of delayed payment → Application for confirmation of bankruptcy etc. (the employee)→ Period of bankruptcy notification of 30 days (postponement allowed only once) → Application for confirmation and payment → Confirmation results notification (to employee) and forwarding of delayed payments (Korea Labor Welfare Corporation) → Delayed payment deposited into employee’s account → Government holds the right to claim payments from the employer.
- Retirement grants are mandatory at workplaces with five or more employees.
- The basic requirements are also applicable to retirement grants.
- A worker employed for one year or more is eligible for retirement grants. Foreign workers are also eligible for retirement grants unless certain circumstances prevail that nullify such claims. As mentioned before, foreign nationals working in Korea illegally are technically considered employees of a workplace and hence are also entitled to retirement grants.
Retirement grant calculation method (example)
- Total period of labor : April 30, 2009 ~ October 31, 2013 (4 years, 6 months and 28 days = 1,668 days)
- Calculation of average salary three months prior to retirement : 3,600,000 won(Total wage amount over three months) / 92 = 39,130won
- Avg. salary 39,130 won * 30 days * 1,668 days / 365 days = 5,364,621won