Fifty thousand Cambodians compete against the odds for Korean jobs

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Over 50,000 Cambodians are participating in a Korean language examination this Saturday and Sunday in Phnom Penh for the chance to work in South Korea as unskilled labourers.

A successful exam mark means a chance to work on a Korean farm, construction site or in a factory, making 1,000 to 1,500 dollars a month, which is more than the average annual income in Cambodia.

Only a small selection of students will score high enough to be taken on by employers involved in the so-called Employment Permit System, according to Park Taehoon, representative of the Human Resources Development Service of Korea.

"More than 50,000 Cambodian people apply and the pass list will maybe be 3,600. It's very difficult," he told dpa on Saturday.

Last year, South Korea employed 46,000 Cambodians, many staying for almost five years at a time, to fill its unskilled labour gap, Park said.

The odds are low for students like Bin Chantou, who was waiting outside the gates of Sisowath High School on Saturday, three hours ahead of her allotted exam time.

"I want to work to earn money to support my parents," said Bin, who has been preparing for the exam for seven months and hopes to work on a Korean farm. Her brother is already in Korea working in a factory.

Going to work in South Korea can help a Cambodian family pay for education, healthcare or livestock, students at a Korean language school told dpa. 

Even for university graduates, the prospect of work in South Korea is tempting. Park says a small percentage of applicants under the job permit system hold advanced degrees.

In total, Cambodian workers in South Korea sent home 260 million dollars in remittances in 2016, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

The country isn't a one-off case though. Park says that workers from countries such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal and Vietnam, are all brought into the country via similar schemes to help stock up the workforce.

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