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Some household workers in South Korea may lose base access

SOFA families subject to jail, fines for improperly hiring non-Koreans

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Some nannies, maids and other household workers whom military families hired in South Korea may lose their base privileges in coming months as U.S. Forces Korea begins limiting access to workers violating local immigration and labor standards.

This stricter enforcement policy — described by USFK’s top spokesman as an educational campaign rather than a crackdown — most likely will affect families who live in South Korea under a status-of-forces-agreement visa and who have hired Filipinas or other non-South Koreans as nannies or maids.

“We’re not on a witch hunt here,” Col. Franklin Childress, USFK’s public affairs officer, said Friday. “We want to make sure we educate our personnel adequately about this situation.”

The situation is this: South Korea’s government, in most circumstances, does not allow foreigners to take household jobs such as maids, nannies or gardeners in the homes of SOFA personnel, according to Childress and the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Those SOFA personnel include servicemembers, Department of Defense workers and contractors and their family members living both on and off military bases, he said.

Whether on base or off, those who violate this law by hiring non-South Koreans without proper visa credentials can face a year in jail and a fine of 10 million won (about $10,600), Childress said. The workers also can face legal punishment, he said.

“This is a serious issue,” he said. “SOFA personnel are required to respect Republic of Korea law.”

It’s unclear how many military families or household workers currently are in violation of the law. Despite having a system that grants household workers base access without needing a personal escort like most other visitors, USFK does not have estimates, Childress said.

That’s because figuring out who is circumventing the law is much more complicated than reviewing a list of current household workers with approved passes. It involves a careful look at each worker’s visa or resident status with the South Korean government, Childress said. “Every situation is going to be a little bit different,” he said.

Rather than search out individual families and workers, USFK is relying on each family to review its own situation and begin complying with the law, Childress said.

At the same time, USFK has stopped issuing base passes to foreigners newly hired as household workers, he said.

In the past, servicemembers living on base could request a special pass for a household worker through the Law and Order office. The pass was issued after the servicemember’s chain of command validated the request and the potential worker passed a background check.

Now, those types of passes will be granted only to South Korean citizens and foreigners who meet the following exemptions under South Korean law, according to Childress:

  • A person in South Korea on an F2 visa, which is a foreigner who is married to a South Korean citizen or a permanent resident of South Korea who has refugee status.
  • A person in South Korea on an F4 visa, which is a foreigner with Korean ancestry.
  • A person in South Korea on an F5 visa, which is permanent resident alien.
  • A person who has SOFA status, has received authorization by the military installation commander for the employment and who works on a military base for another SOFA-status person.

All workers with current passes will be allowed to continue work through their current expiration date, he said.

If, however, that pass is to expire in the next few weeks, the workers may be allowed base access until Jan. 31 to help families adjust to the stricter system, Childress said. In extreme circumstances, a family may apply for an extra 30-day extension.

USFK expects most affected families and workers to be in the Seoul area and the new pass policy will be implemented in bases here. Other base commanders will apply the policy as needed to comply with South Korean law, Childress said.

The stricter base access should have no affect on families who have hired South Korean workers.

It also should have no effect on U.S. Embassy personnel and their household workers. Embassy personnel live and work in South Korea under a different set of obligations, Childress said.

Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this story.


USFK wants clearinghouse for South Koreans seeking household jobs

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Breaking local labor and immigration laws by hiring foreign workers can prompt fines, jail time and other serious consequences.

But abruptly limiting a workforce hired to oversee households and children in a military family carries its own set of challenges, U.S. Forces Korea officials acknowledged.

The U.S. military has 29,500 servicemembers in South Korea. But only about 10 percent are here on accompanied tours, with the military paying for their families to accompany them across the globe.

That 10 percent typically includes higher-ranking enlisted members or officers, some of whom rank high enough for base housing in Seoul at Yongsan Garrison and Hannam Village. And many of these families include mothers and fathers who both are active-duty servicemembers and both subject to 24-hour workdays and sudden changes in duty requirements.

“As we look at this problem, we understand the impact it can have” on families, Col. Franklin Childress, USFK’s top spokesman, said Friday. “We don’t want to take this away without providing an alternative.”

That’s why USFK is working with local military installation leaders to create a clearinghouse of South Korean workers who speak English and want jobs as nannies, maids and household workers, he said.

Installation Management Command-Korea Region, the Army agency that oversees base facilities, will begin gathering the names and applications of South Koreans who want household jobs on U.S. military bases in Seoul, Childress said.

The command also will place ads in local Korean and military newspapers seeking names of applicants who can speak English. Army Community Services will maintain the master list, though Child and Youth Services also will maintain a copy.

As the list grows, families can contact the command for potential applicants. Interviewing the candidates and confirming any referrals or recommendations will be up to the families, Childress said.

— Teri Weaver

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