By Bae Ji-sook
Labor Minister Lee Young-hee met ambassadors and other representatives of 13 fellow Asian countries Tuesday and asked for their cooperation in reducing the number of their nationals staying here ``illegally.''''
At Lotte Hotel in downtown Seoul, Lee said his ministry will do its best to protect the rights of foreign workers staying under the employment permit system (EPS) that allows them to work here for three years.
``I know many people are concerned over whether the economic difficulties would cut back their jobs. But I can tell you that there are many companies who are in need of good and decent foreign workers. We will try hard to make the two meet,'''' he said.
The minister explained the EPS to the ambassadors. At the moment, a bill revision to allow them to work here for five years straight is pending at the National Assembly. The envoys from Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka and 10 other countries responded by making some suggestions about the system.
``There were requests from the embassies concerning the EPS and we thought it was time the minister sat down and talked with them,'''' ministry official Lim Dong-hee said.
Lee''s remarks came after 30,000 people were deported to their respective countries as of last year among 200,000 assumed illegal sojourners out of the 720,000 foreign workers here, according to the Justice Ministry.
Still, the number of migrant workers to Korea is increasing every year. In December, the ministry even began to stop issuing E-9 work visas by this February, with issuance having reached the annual quota of 72,000.