While more Cambodians venture abroad looking for higher paying jobs, those who have found work legally in Korea say that it has allowed them to support their families back home.
Chear Mengheang, who first travelled to Korea for work in 2011, has been able to earn enough to send money home to his younger siblings and grandmother in Tbong Khmum province.
“I always send over half of my salary from Korea back home,” Mengheang said. While he said that he does not know if his family can be deemed wealthy, they have been able to invest his earnings.
“My younger brother has a motorcycle to ride, and after he got married, they launched a moto repair shop in my home [province]. With my earnings, my youngest sibling can attend school regularly,” he said.
Mengheang is just one of 4,000 Cambodian migrants working in Korea this year under an employment scheme between the Cambodia’s Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training and the Korean government. Since 2007, the program has sent some 42,000 Cambodians to work in Korea, primarily in agriculture.
Workers like Mengheang receive between $1,000 to $1,500 a month, which has helped to improve economic relations between both countries.
Data from Acleda Bank showed the bank handled $70.1 million in trade payments from Cambodia to South Korea during the first eight months of the year. Money transfers from South Korea received by the bank totalled $130.3 million during the same period.
To qualify to work in Korea, however, Cambodian workers must pass an exam at the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training to receive legal migrant status before they can be hired by a Korean company.
Moving to Korea is also not without its challenges. Mengheang said that the Korean winter was a shock after spending his entire life in tropical Cambodia, but he eventually got used to it.
“In Korea, I will never forget the first winter I experienced,” he said. “It was so cold, it made my bones hurt.” But with proper accommodation and the right clothing to resist the elements, he has gotten used to the changing seasons.
Agricultural worker, Sim Sothy, 30, from Kandal province said he has also found working in Korea to be financially beneficial, sending home $600 each month. However, like Mengheang, he has also faced challenges.
Since Sothy first arrived to Korea over three years ago, he has changed jobs twice when he was unsatisfied with the work and his boss’s behaviour. Feeling that his skills were not being used, Sothy sought out other jobs.
“My new boss is a respectable man who cares about our living, and I also enjoy this work very much,” he said of his new job planting chilli peppers.
Sothy said that although most Korean bosses are respectable individuals and like Cambodian migrants, “there are still some greedy bosses, as well.”
However, he said that he appreciates the strong legal protection for workers in Korea in case they have problems.
“Jobs in Korea have timely hours, rules and tasks to be completed, and it works very well,” Sothy said. “We must obey Korea’s law, and our bosses must comply as well.”