International students in Korea allowed more work hours in new measures

International students in Korea allowed more work hours in new measures

International students in South Korea will have lower financial thresholds to meet when applying, as well as expanded work rights while studying, according to measures outlined by Ministry of Justice.

The financial proof threshold will go down to 16 million won for applications to universities outside of metropolitan areas. Photo: Pixabay

Those with both higher Korean proficiency will be permitted to work another five hours per week

Coming into force on July 3, the stipulations aim to attract more international students to the country, after delays have pushed an upcoming initiative known as the Study Korea 3.0 plan as far as the end of July.

In a new statement made by the MOJ, the financial “screening” criteria when a student applies for a student visa will be relaxed.

Students doing degrees previously had to prove they had at least $20,000 to be granted a visa. The system now will work in Korean won, and 20 million won will be required for degree students, which amounts to just shy of $15,400.

“Lowering the income threshold will especially help students from poorer countries,” Johan Asplund, head of the Dream Studies Abroad agency, told The PIE News.

Crucially for international students looking at a variety of universities in the country, that threshold will go down to 16 million won if applications are made to universities outside of metropolitan areas.

“If it is tied to the study location it could help with spreading students to more parts of Korea – at the moment a vast majority chooses to study in Seoul and the other major cities.

“However, I think most students who can afford [Seoul universities] will continue to do so,” Asplund noted.

For language course students, the amount falls to just 10 million won – or around $7,700.

Another key measure outlined by the statement is the increase in work hour allowances for international students. They will now be permitted to work 25 hours per week instead of 20.

“In order to attract and retain these students, the local industry and economy should provide substantial job and career opportunities,” Kyuseok Kim, a team leader at SUNY Korea, told The PIE.

“The MOJ’s programs also need to encompass those international students who wish to work in knowledge-based and digital industries, thereby attracting high-quality students from overseas who can contribute to high-end, value-adding fields in science and technology,” Kim explained.

“Studying at Korean universities can be demanding”

Internships during university holidays will also be allowed for international students in their specific field of study, as well as the usual part-time jobs.

Speculation over the reasons for the release of the measures have swelled amid the delay of the forthcoming Study Korea 3.0 initiative, which follows previous iterations aimed at attractions more students from overseas.

The plans were marginally successful, with South Korea hosting a total of 200,000 international students across the country in 2022.

The issues lie, Kim said, in the current surge being fuelled largely by language course students on D4 visas – who also make up 70% of students who are engaging in activities “disallowed on their visas”.

“The policy change may lead to growing concerns about the rising number of international students with illegal status. The number of those disappearing from university campuses has seen a significant increase since 2016. In contrast, such instances in Japan are relatively fewer.

“[These measures] would have been better if it were packaged with the MOE’s Study Korea 3.0, so that it provides a holistic approach which would include every step of international admissions, from recruitment funnel through to the post-study job and career opportunities with proper immigration status,” he stressed.

Asplund reiterated the grave consequences for universities whose students abuse their visa rights and even “disappear”, saying the institution could be “reprimanded and even lose their rights to issue student visas”.

“With more lenient visa rules and lower income barriers this problem could grow so much that they would probably have to change the system, and move the responsibility from the universities to perhaps the MOJ,” Asplund predicted.

On the working hours measure, the MOJ pointed out that those with both higher grades and proficiency in Korean will be permitted to work another five hours per week on top of the increase – something Asplund said could be a “motivation to study hard”, but something few students would manage.

“Studying at Korean universities can be demanding,” he pointed out.

Language course students would still not access work rights until they have been in the country for six months.

“The policy change may lead to growing concerns about the rising number of students with illegal status”

Another move made in the statement by the MOJ is the “diversification” of methods of testing Korean proficiency for international students.

As well as the usual TOPIK test, the Social Integration Program of the MOJ and the King Sejong Institute Korean standard will also be added as options for tests internationals can take, should they need to prove their proficiency.

The final measure allows international students participating in their “mandatory field practice” according to laws set by the MoE, they would be given the same opportunities for practice as Korean students without having to obtain a work permit.

Kim contended that the measures show Korea is lagging behind Japan in terms of attracting international students. Study Korea began in 2004, almost 20 years after Japan started a similar kind of initiative.

“Given that both countries are undergoing severe demographic disruption due to exceptionally low birth rates, this poses considerable challenges for local institutions.

“It is imperative to attract more international students to maintain institutional sustainability of each HEI for organisational purposes, as well as to keep the Korean society and economy vibrant by having proper mass of residents,” Kim concluded.

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