Viewing cable 06SEOUL4284
Title: NK REFUGEES: THE QUEST FOR STABLE EMPLOYMENT

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06SEOUL42842006-12-15 09:05:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Seoul
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 SEOUL 004284 
 
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TAGS: PREF PHUM PGOV PREL KTIP KS KN
SUBJECT: NK REFUGEES: THE QUEST FOR STABLE EMPLOYMENT 
 
¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Finding stable employment is probably the 
greatest challenge for North Koreans resettling in the ROK. 
The ROKG assigns North Korean refugees to employment 
officers, provides incentives, recruits employers, and 
subsidizes half of North Koreans' salaries to their employers 
for two years.  Many North Koreans do not take advantage of 
such opportunities, however, or prefer to obtain irregular 
jobs so they can continue to collect welfare payments from 
the government in addition to their wages.  Further, while 
most North Korean refugees are from marginalized and less 
educated groups, ROK law provides that educational and 
professional achievements in the North will be recognized in 
the ROK.  In practice, however, this policy has limited value 
in professional fields. END SUMMARY. 
 
STABLE EMPLOYMENT: AN UPHILL BATTLE 
----------------------------------- 
 
¶2. (SBU) Competing in the South Korean labor market is the 
major challenge for most North Korean refugees.  Like other 
immigrant populations, North Koreans lack political, social, 
and job skills necessary in their new home.  The director of 
a large non-government North Korean resettlement center told 
Poloff that many North Koreans have a difficult time 
adjusting to the ROK's capitalist, free-market society.  Even 
if North Koreans understand capitalist principles in theory, 
putting these ideas into practice is difficult for many North 
Koreans, especially middle-aged refugees, who are used to 
working in a controlled economy.  ROK National Human Rights 
Commission (NHRC) Chief Human Rights Policy Analyst Shim 
Sang-don similarly asserted that, due to differences in the 
economic systems, North Koreans often have a weaker work 
ethic, and may face difficulties maintaining employment in 
the ROK's hard-working society.  North Koreans are also 
entering a competitive job market where the unemployment rate 
among new entrants is 15-20 percent. 
 
¶3. (SBU) Many North Koreans are from marginalized classes in 
North Korea, and would have difficulties in finding "good 
jobs" anywhere in the world.  According to MOU statistics, 
the vast majority of North Korean refugees in the ROK were 
hard laborers, farmers, or homemakers in the DPRK. 
 
¶4. (SBU) Even highly-educated North Koreans may find that 
their achievements are worth little in the ROK.  Hanawon 
Career Counselor Jeon Youn-suk reported that the number of 
North Korean refugees with professional degrees or 
certificates has increased recently as the number of "planned 
defections" among such groups has risen.  Under the 1997 
Protection Act, North Koreans' academic achievements and 
qualifications are recognized in the ROK.  In practice, 
however, KINU Senior Research Fellow Lee Keum-soon said that 
this is difficult because of the vast differences in 
education and skills acquired through the North and South 
Korean systems.  Also, many professions credentials are 
granted by private organizations (e.g., the Korean Bar 
Association or Korean Medical Association) that do not 
recognize such North Korean qualifications, in large part 
because training in North Korea would not prepare refugees 
for practicing in their fields in the ROK.  In addition, some 
NGOs also report that North Koreans may have difficulty in 
having their credentials recognized if they lack documents to 
prove their achievements.  North Korea Database Center found 
that only half of North Koreans who tried to have their 
credentials recognized in the ROK were successful.  Kookmin 
University scholar Andrei Lankov argued that this group of 
mid-level professionals is likely to suffer the most, but be 
the most important, after unification. 
 
¶5. (SBU) According to the 1997 Protection Act, the ROKG 
 
SEOUL 00004284  002 OF 004 
 
 
offers supplementary education and retraining when refugees' 
professional qualifications are not recognized.  For example, 
Hanawon's Educational Director Pak Yong-sok reported that, if 
North Koreans had studied medicine in the DPRK, they may be 
able to enter skip the first few years of medical school in 
the ROK.  According to Hanawon's Jeon, as of late November a 
bill was pending before the National Assembly that would make 
it easier for North Koreans to have their past achievements 
recognized. 
 
EMPLOYMENT UNDERREPORTED 
------------------------ 
 
¶6. (SBU) KINU's Lee said that many North Koreans have 
part-time or temporary jobs that they do not report so that 
they can continue to receive unemployment assistance. 
Estimating North Koreans' unemployment rate is therefore 
difficult; a study by North Korea Database Center estimated 
unemployment at 30 percent, while KINU estimates 14.7 percent 
unemployment.  Other recent surveys estimate North Koreans' 
unemployment between 38 and 60 percent.  A study by North 
Korea Database found that 75 percent of employed North 
Koreans hold irregular or day jobs; 57 percent had been 
employed in their current jobs less than six months; and 98 
percent had changed jobs at least once.  Chang Chin-yung, an 
employment assistance officer at Seoul's Nambu Employment 
Assistance Center, told poloff that many North Korean 
refugees have a negative view of stable employment because 
they believe that refugees who obtain irregular jobs are able 
to receive more money from the government.  Indeed, one older 
female North Korean refugee complained to poloff that the 
ROKG should change its system so that North Korean refugees 
could continue to receive their unemployment payments while 
working.  Chang also reported that some refugees are 
constantly worried about their situation due to the 
instability the have faced, and fear losing their government 
assistance. 
 
HELPING NORTH KOREANS OVERCOME THE CHALLENGES 
--------------------------------------------- 
 
¶7. (SBU) As outlined in septels, the ROK provides North 
Korean refugees with an employment protection officer in 
their communities who helps North Koreans obtain training and 
jobs.  MOL also subsidizes 50 percent of North Koreans' wages 
for two years.  In addition to resettlement assistance, the 
ROKG provides additional incentive payments up to KRW 15.4 
million (USD 15,400) for North Koreans who complete training 
programs or obtain long-term stable employment.  A female 
North Korean refugee who works as a housekeeper praised the 
incentives for refugees maintaining employment for at least 
one year.  A male student refugee was less positive about the 
incentive program, however, noting that it is difficult for 
many North Koreans to meet the criteria necessary to receive 
the incentive payments, such as maintaining a certain GPA at 
University or completing a certain number of training hours. 
According to MOU statistics, the number of North Korean 
refugees seeking assistance in obtaining jobs increased after 
introduction of the incentive program. 
 
¶8. (SBU) Poloff visited the Nambu Employment Assistance 
Center in Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul, on November 22.  The large 
Center, housed in a modern building, was filled with 
teller-like stations where Koreans in need of employment 
assistance meet with job counselors.  Employment officer 
Chang told Poloff that the Ministry of Labor's (MOL) main 
roles in assisting North Korean refugees are to provide 
employment counseling to refugees, help refugees find 
suitable employment, and provide subsidies to companies that 
employ North Korean refugees.  MOL has 60 employment centers 
 
SEOUL 00004284  003 OF 004 
 
 
throughout the ROK, each of which has an officer designated 
to assist North Koreans in that area.  According to Chang, 
employment officers do not receive lists of North Koreans in 
their area because of the sensitivity of such information, 
but are referred North Koreans by their welfare officers. 
North Koreans may also connect with employment officers 
through civil society organizations or learn of them through 
advertisements of their activities. 
 
¶9. (SBU) The Nambu office, which oversees three districts 
that are home to 1,300 North Koreans, has been operating a 
pilot program since July 2006 to provide more comprehensive 
programming to North Korean refugees.  The pilot program has 
divided North Koreans into three groups based on the time 
they have been in the ROK, but is focused primarily on 
helping recent Hanawon graduates quickly obtain stable jobs 
or enter job training programs.  Poloff met with Chang in a 
large and well-equipped conference room, which she said is 
often used to host group events for North Korean refugees. 
Chang said that the Nambu Center's pilot program would be 
completed in December, and the Center would complete an 
evaluation and distribute a manual to other employment 
centers.  Because the main emphasis of the program is on 
group activities, the program may not be applicable in areas 
with only a small number of defectors, Chang said. 
 
JOB TRAINING 
------------ 
 
¶10. (SBU) Some North Koreans are interested in first 
receiving job training before looking for employment, Chang 
said.  Hanawon career counselor Jeon told poloff that Hanawon 
recently put more emphasis on job training, which now 
comprises 40 percent of Hanawon's curriculum.  Since May, 
Hanawon has worked closely with the MOL to develop enhanced 
vocational training programs, including an exchange program 
with a polytechnical school near Hanawon.  This experience 
allows North Koreans to gain a sense of their interests, 
build confidence in their abilities, and provide the training 
necessary to get better jobs, Jeon said. 
 
¶11. (SBU) Chang said that there are several large job 
training programs that North Korean refugees tend to be 
interested in, but refugees often have a difficult time 
adjusting to the classes due to educational gaps with their 
South Korean peers.  MOL and the Nambu Center are therefore 
working to develop training programs tailored for North 
Korean refugees.  NK Net President Han Ki-hong argued that 
that job-training programs are focused narrowly on vocational 
and computer skills.  The ROK should also provide programs 
and incentives for North Koreans to learn English and other 
skills, Han said. 
 
ENTERING THE WORKING WORLD 
-------------------------- 
 
¶12. (SBU) Some North Koreans want to immediately obtain a job 
without receiving additional job training.  Hanawon's Jeon 
said that skilled jobs are difficult to obtain, and because 
many North Koreans want to obtain jobs right away, they often 
end-up with blue collar jobs.  When North Koreans are ready 
to seek employment, Chang said that MOL tries to match 
refugees to employers based on their interests and abilities. 
 Chang reported that the Employment Center conducts outreach 
to companies to encourage them to hire North Korean refugees. 
 She said that many companies are hesitant to employ North 
Korean refugees because they do not have any experience with 
them, not because they are North Koreans.  North Korea 
Database found that of North Koreans believe South Korean 
employers refrain from employing them for several reasons: 34 
 
SEOUL 00004284  004 OF 004 
 
 
percent cited prejudice; 29 percent identified differences in 
ability compared to South Korean colleagues; 29 percent said 
because their background from North Korea is not relevant; 
and 6.5 percent identified a preference for South Korean or 
foreign workers. 
 
¶13. (SBU) Chang said that the Center provides employers with 
information to address any prejudices against refugees that 
employers might have.  As part of its pilot program, the 
Center holds events for North Korean refugees and prospective 
employers so that employers can identify potential employees. 
 The Center also accompanies North Koreans to job interviews, 
and encourages companies to conduct interviews at the Center 
to help North Koreans feel more comfortable. 
 
¶14. (SBU) Finding a full-time job is only half the battle, 
however, as Chang reported that many North Koreans quit their 
jobs without any notice.  In the past, many North Koreans 
also were not very hard-working, Chang said.  In recent 
years, however, more refugees are diligent and work very 
hard, which is helping to improve employers' image of North 
Koreans.  Chang also noted that many North Koreans face 
difficulties in the workplace due to poor health.  North 
Korea Database found that 24 percent of North Koreans 
identified health problems as a reason for difficulty at work 
(13 percent said lack of ability, 14 percent cited difficult 
relationships with co-workers, 16 percent cited low wages of 
lack of benefits, 2 percent cited unfairness in promotions, 
and 16 percent identified no problems). 
 
¶15. (SBU) Many companies that hire North Korean refugees also 
employ foreign workers, and some refugees may quit because of 
poor working conditions, Chang said.  The employment office 
encourages North Korean refugees to report problems with 
working conditions or discrimination to their employment 
officer, but Chang said that in most cases refugees quit 
their jobs before informing the employer or employment office 
of problems. 
 
¶16. (SBU) To try to prevent problems with job discrimination 
or poor working conditions, the MOL requires employers who 
hire refugees to renew their government assistance agreement 
every three months, according to Chang.  Chang said that MOL 
also tries to help North Koreans obtain jobs with companies 
that are members of the ROK's general insurance program.  She 
reported that employment officers also follow-up with 
refugees once they obtain jobs to ensure that they are being 
treated properly.  Chang said that, because the MOL provides 
subsidies to companies who employ North Korean refugees for 
their salaries, employment officers also check periodically 
with the companies and refugees to ensure that the refugees 
are still employed at the companies receiving those benefits. 
 
 
¶17. (SBU) While experience with refugees who quit suddenly 
makes some employers hesitant to hire refugees, Chang 
believed positive signs are starting to show, with more 
employers now willing to hire North Korean refugees.  Still, 
MOU statistics indicate that more North Koreans are looking 
for jobs than the number of companies willing to hire them. 
As of June 2006, only 400 North Koreans had obtained regular 
jobs for which the ROKG paid employment subsidies, while the 
majority were employed in blue-collar jobs. 
VERSHBOW