Injured and Illegal…in South Korea

June 24th, 2008 by

We sometimes forget that the USA is not the only country with an undocumented worker problem. Anywhere you find developed countries with lots of (relatively high paying) jobs, you will find people willing to do anything to get them. Which leads us to an article in Korea Times by Park Si-soo.
Zhang Shuai, 22, entered South Korea on a student visa in March of 2005. He took a language course at a nearby university, but he also began working (illegally) at an electronics firm in a neighboring city. In May 2006, immigration officials raided the building (shades of last year’s ICE raids in New Bedford). His employer told Zhang to skedaddle pronto (using, of course, the Korean equivalent). During his flight, he accidentally fell from the building, suffering brain damage and paralysis in his left arm and leg.
Zhang filed for the South Korean equivalent of workers comp benefits. His initial petition was denied, because “his escape had nothing to do with his duties at work.” But the Busan High Court has granted Zhang compensation for his injuries. The court is able to connect the dots between Zhang’s job duties and his escape attempt (please excuse the rather byzantine grammar, a product, perhaps, of hasty translation):

His escape attempt was to avoid many disadvantages that he would receive after the inspection, but it is also true that his employers forced him to escape so as to continue their operations because they were not able to find local workers despite repeated recruitment advertisements. Therefore, the escape was part of his duties at work.

There are several seemingly universal principles here: people will gravitate to available work with minimal consideration of national boundaries or workrules; undocumented workers will be injured on the job with the same or higher frequency of regular workers; in most instances, undocumented workers will be eligible for workers comp or its equivalent.
We have an undocumented worker problem in this country of humongous proportions, but we are by no means alone. Perhaps the United Nations could come up with a solution that attacks this problem not just in the US, but across the entire world. Just kidding. That would imply a rational and universal approach to shared problems. No way, Jose! It is far more likely that undocumented workers will continue to break the rules and continue to do the work, country by country, across the face of the earth.