Rise in number of Thais seeking work in South Korea

Thai massage shops in Seoul's Gangnam district. (Photo: Kornchanok Raksaseri)
Thai massage shops in Seoul's Gangnam district. (Photo: Kornchanok Raksaseri)

Outbound tour operators reported a spike in the number of illegal job seekers who travel on tour packages to South Korea and escape from the group as soon as they arrive.

"The number of illegal job hunters already exceeded the number of actual tourists. Tour operators have been able to notice the pattern of fake travellers as they mostly come with a new passport without any travel record. We have to reject those suspected customers from joining group tours to avoid problems with the authorities in South Korea," said Charoen Wangananont, president of the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA).

South Korean authorities denied entry to 417 out of 697 Thai travellers visiting Jeju from Tuesday to Friday last week.

Mr Charoen said Jeju island became the targeted destination for illegal migrant workers from Thailand as it is a special self-governing province which does not require the Korea Electronic Travel Authorisation (K-ETA) registration, which is a newly introduced system that Thai travellers have to use to apply before departure.

The island has also removed the requirement for a RT-PCR test on arrival to international visitors which means illegal workers can enter the country with lower travel costs.

When combined with a very low airfare to South Korea at 6,000-7,000 baht at the moment, these factors have lured more workers who seek better wages than in their home country, particularly amid a sluggish economy.

"The high minimum wage at around 45,000 baht per month always entices more workers to try their luck. We have seen this problem since before Covid-19, but due to an influx of Thai travellers to South Korea of around 500,000 in 2019, the portion of illegal workers was smaller in comparison to general tourists," said Mr Charoen.

However, the number of illegal workers, known as "little ghosts", might remain higher than tourists over upcoming months as regular tourists are concerned about the possibility of being rejected.

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  • authority (noun): a person or government agency who has the power to make decisions or enforce the law - เจ้าหน้าที่ผู้มีอำนาจ
  • denied: a refusal to allow somebody to have something - ปฎิเสธ, ไม่ยอมรับ
  • entice: persuade someone to do something by offering them something pleasant - ล่อใจ
  • exceed: to be more than something; to go beyond a limit - เกินกว่าที่กำหนด
  • illegal: against the law - ผิดกฎหมาย, นอกกฎหมาย
  • influx: a large number of people or things coming in to a place - การหลั่งไหล การไหลบ่า  (เข้าไปยังที่ใดที่หนึ่ง)
  • lure: to attract someone/something - ล่อใจ, หลอกล่อ, ยั่วยวน
  • migrant worker: someone who travels to another place or country in order to find work - คนงานต่างถิ่น
  • registration: the process of recording names or information on an official list - การขึ้นทะเบียน, การลงทะเบียน
  • reject: to not accept something - ปฏิเสธ ไม่ยอมรับ
  • sluggish: not performing or reacting as well as usual - (เศรษฐกิจ) ที่ซบเซา
  • spike (verb): to increase suddenly - พุ่งพรวดขึ้น
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