Non-Korean domestics banned from U.S. bases on peninsula
As of this week, South Koreans and Americans are the only people being allowed on U.S. military bases in Korea for employment as domestic workers, according to U.S. Forces Korea legal officials.
The issue first came up in November as USFK officials realized some military families’ maids, nannies and yard workers were foreigners in South Korea who did not have the proper visa approval to earn money as domestics, a violation of South Korean immigration laws.
Now, almost four months later, those foreigners have had their base privileges revoked, according to USFK spokesman David Oten.
Yet even if families live off base and continue to employ other nationalities as domestic workers, they still are violating both local immigration laws and the Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and South Korean governments, according to Hyun S. Kim, an American lawyer who works for USFK.
“The Korean law does not allow SOFA-status people to hire third-country nationals,” Kim said during a phone interview on Wednesday. “This is true for off-post, too.”
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) a USFK spokesman said last fall. The workers also can face legal punishment, he said.
To date, no one has been prosecuted, Kim said.
USFK officials said this week they have done what they can to address the issue where they have the most control — base access for installations like Yongsan Garrison in Seoul.
But they also acknowledge that addressing the issue off-base relies on each family to make sure they are in compliance with South Korean laws and the SOFA, an agreement between the two countries that defines the privileges and limitations for servicemembers, Pentagon workers, some military contractors and all family members.
The situation does not affect State Department workers or other Americans living in South Korea, Kim said.
The news last fall that some families might lose their nanny or maid prompted concern from both individuals and USFK leaders, who wanted to comply with the laws while giving families time to hire a new worker if needed.
Families had until the end of January to comply, though in special cases commanders were willing to offer extensions through the end of February, Col. Franklin Childress, USFK spokesman, said in November.
During those three months, the Morale, Welfare and Recreation office at Yongsan advertised in various newspapers, including Stars and Stripes, to solicit South Koreans or Americans interested in domestic jobs on base, according to Dan Ahern, the chief for MWR in South Korea.
As of Wednesday, the list included 43 South Koreans and three Americans, he said.
“It’s a service to facilitate a person needing a nanny with a person who wants to be a nanny,” Ahern said. “We’re not endorsing these people. You need to be doing that on your own.”
Most USFK families with command sponsorship live in Seoul or Pyeongtaek, home of Osan Air Base. The situation did not have a large effect on servicemembers at Osan, according to Air Force Lt. Kim Schaerdel of Osan’s public affairs office.
Special base passes for legal domestic workers still are available, Oten said. These passes are issued after the servicemember’s chain of command has validated the request and the potential worker has passed a background check, USFK officials said last fall.
Currently, there are about 160 domestic workers with this type of access to Yongsan, Oten said.
Need a nanny?
Yongsan Garrison’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation office has collected a list of people who are interested in working as a maid or nanny for U.S. military families.
MWR and other military offices do not screen the potential applicants. Rather, the list is meant to help bridge a gap between families looking for a worker and those people interested in work. To review the list, call Child and Youth Services at 738-5036 or Army Community Services at 738-7505.
If you do hire a South Korean citizen as a domestic worker, you must pay income taxes to the South Korean government if you pay the person 80,000 won per day or more, and if you employ them for three consecutive months. Employers of domestic workers are not required to offer annual leave or insurance for worker’s compensation, according to USFK.
— Teri Weaver