International Migration Papers No. 119

The Republic of Korea’s Employment Permit System (EPS): Background and Rapid Assessment

For the majority of the 20th century, the Republic of Korea was a country of net emigration, but it has entered the 21st century as a clear country of destination, in particular for workers from other Asian countries, who come to work mainly in small-and-medium sized enterprises and in agriculture. The Employment Permit System (EPS) is an example of a non-seasonal temporary labour migration programme that operates through bilateral government-to-government memoranda of understanding (MOU). This paper provides some background to the creation of the EPS, gives an overview of its functioning, and assesses its strengths and weaknesses in terms of migration governance and the protection of migrant workers. The paper is based mainly on existing desk-research as well as interviews with stakeholder representatives.