Destination South Korea I

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Wednesday morning, I came across this long queue of young people — mostly men — on my way to Shanti Nikunja School, one of the schools COMMITTED works with in Kathmandu.

Very curious, I struck up a conversation with one of them, which led to more questions and some interesting discoveries!

Turned out, they were queuing up to pre-pay the US$24 fee against registration for Korean Language lessons and thereby qualify for jobs in South Korea.

I had known about Nepalese going to South Korea but I was unaware of the details of the arrangement. Naturally, I was really curious about it all. So, I went in search of answers.

Tweeter yesterday morning, to begin with, served me an article that shed a bit of light on it!

The other discovery was the complete failure on the part of the organizers to make the process of registration hassle free.

Given that there is so much interest in the course — the estimate is 80K —  why are there only 30 registration sites in Kathmandu AND why is the window for registration just 10 days (from March 22 to 31)?!

Even conservative estimates will show that the arrangement inconveniences prospective migrant laborers unnecessarily. Assuming just half (40K) register in Kathmandu, simple math shows that, on average each of the 30 locations will see about 133 registrants per day. Assuming they all show up at the first hour and queue up, which, knowing the Nepalese people, is highly likely, and further, assuming the process to take just 3 minutes per person, the longest wait comes out to more than 4 hours! (I’m keen to find out more about this.)

No wonder, some, according to the article above, have queued up for more than 5 hours on the first day!

For at least the last few years, on average 2000 semi- and unskilled laborers have been leaving the country every day. A majority go to Malaysia, Saudia Arabia and Qatar. Pay and work conditions, however, are really really bad, if not the worst, in those three countries!

And yet (and this was another discovery) we have such as agreement with the South Korean government, but NOT with that of the other three countries!

It was in 2007 that the Government of Nepal signed an MOU with South Korea, and entered the country into the Korean Government-run work scheme: referred to as the Employment Permit System (EPS). The first group went in 2008.

Since then, increasing number of workers have headed to the country. Apparently, by September 2016, 40,000 Nepalese had availed themselves of this opportunity.

(The numbers that have been to each of Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the same period, I am certain, vastly outnumber that. Qatar, with the least number of the three, has half-a-million working there now, for instance!)

But long before they are even considered for a job, they have to pass a language proficiency test — the KLT (Korean Language Test).

Aspirant migrant laborer between the ages of 18 and 39, must take 150 hours of language classes spread over fifty days, in one of at least a few hundred licensed Korean language schools, in preparation.

(Apparently, within six months of signing the MOU 260 private Korean Language School had applied for licensure.)

Enrolling in one of these schools starts with registration with Global IME bank…the queuing I observed Wednesday morning!

Following the language course, they appear for the KLT, which is “conducted jointly by Korean and Nepali representatives.” Yes, jointly, and for good reasons too! Were it not, if only Nepali representative were to administer and supervise those tests, I am willing to bet that there would have been irregularities up the ying yang! 🙂

Once they get through the selection process, involving other checks too (such as health), they are eligible for EPS jobs for two years! The jobs are mostly in manufacturing, agriculture and livestock sectors.

But competition, I discovered, is really really stiff, as I am sure you may have surmised already!

Last year, out of the 57K who took the KLT, only 3,517 (6.17%) passed it. By September, 6626 had left for South Korea that year (a small number compared to the numbers that would have gone to Malaysia, Saudi Arabia or Qatar). That means, less than 1 in 15 passed the test (and an even smaller number make it to South Korea, I am sure)!

While the Nepali article I tweeted says South Korea is taking 10K Nepalese workers in 2017, this article in My Republica says they are taking only 3100! The My Republica article goes on to say that, in 2018, that number will rise three-fold, to about 10K.

If indeed it’s only 3100, and assuming 80K do register by March 31, only 1 in 25 that register this period will get the lottery that is South Korea!!

And why are youths so keen on South Korea? One of the reasons is very very clear: the pay!

A Nepalese semi- or unskilled migrant worker there makes over US$1000 (a thousand US dollars) a month, much MUCH more than what they make in any of the other popular destination.

(Incidentally, to put that number into context, at Rs. 80,900, the per capita income of Nepalese is about US$770 at the current rate of exchange.)

Now my million-dollar questions:

  1. Why can’t the organizers make the process of registration a little easier?
  2. Why can’t or won’t the Government of Nepal sign similar MOU’s with countries like Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE etc.?

What do you think?


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The Himalayan Times (Dec. 2007). More than 260 apply for Korean Language Training.

My Republica (March, 2017). Global IME Bank collecting EPS examination fees.

Karobar (March, 2017). कोरियन भाषा परीक्षाः दस्तुर बुझाउनै पाँच घन्टासम्म लाइन.

The Himalayan Times (July 2016). Over 3,500 applicants pass Korean Language Test

My Republica (September, 2016). Labor migration to Korea highest in nine years.

My Republica (Feb. 2017). South Korea increases quota for Nepali migrant workers.


The following were added on May 11, 2017.

The Economist (April, 2017). Migrant workers in South Korea are often better off in prison.

NagarikNews (April, 20). कोरियालीभाषा परीक्षा दरखास्तमा १५ हजारको त्रुटि.

AnnapurnaPost (May, 2017). सजिलाे छैन काेरिया राेजगार.


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