Over half of foreign subscribers claiming unemployment benefits last year were ethnic Koreans with Chinese nationality, data released by a lawmaker showed, despite them accounting for only a third of those paying in to the system.
Foreign subscribers of all nationalities were less likely than Koreans to claim, and the disproportionate number of ethnic Korean claimants indicates visa status is one hurdle to accessing benefits.
Some 12,107 foreign subscribers received unemployment benefits from the employment insurance scheme last year, according to data from the Ministry of Employment and Labor received by office of Rep. Kim Young-jin of the opposition Democratic Party of Korea.
Some 57.3 percent of them, or 6,938, were ethnic Koreans with Chinese nationality, followed by other Chinese nationals (1,506) and Vietnamese (623).
Unemployment benefits are given to those who worked for an employer for over 180 days, paid unemployment insurance premiums during that time, and subsequently lost that job.
The high share of Chinese nationals of Korean descent claiming jobless benefits stems largely from the difference in their visas.
The Korean Chinese, known as Chaoxianzu in China or Joseonjok in Korea, accounted for 33.5 percent of foreign workers who paid employment insurance premiums last year.
Three-quarters of the 600,000 Korean Chinese in South Korea are on F-4 Overseas Korean visas or F-5 permanent residence visas. These visas allow them to stay for long periods in South Korea even when they are unemployed, whereas those on E-9 non-professional employment visas are deported if they cannot work for three months or more.
The increasing demand for Korean Chinese workers who can speak Korean and are more familiar with Korean culture also enables them to return to the workforce more easily.
While 7.2 percent of Korean Chinese workers received unemployment benefits, only 2.2 percent of Vietnamese workers and 1.5 percent of Filipino workers, many of whom are E-9 visa holders, collected them.
That compares to overall unemployment benefit claims among Koreans of 9.7 percent, meaning the overall claim rate is lower among foreign subscribers.
The total amount of unemployment benefits paid to foreign subscribers has jumped from 28.9 billion won in 2018 and 40.5 billion won in 2019 to nearly 100.9 billion won in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, breaking the 100 billion mark for the first time.
It amounted to 100.36 billion won in 2021, and 76.2 billion won last year.
The number of foreign recipients of the benefits also rose sharply from 6,624 in 2018 and 7,967 in 2019 to 15,371 in 2020. The figure recorded 15,436 in 2021 and 12,107 last year.
The average amount of unemployment benefits paid per foreign subscribers amounted to about 6.3 million won last year, similar to the average paid to a Korean national -- 6.69 million won.