Sth Korea: Migrant unionist fights visa cancellation, deportation

March 26, 2011

Migrant Trade Union (MTU) president Michel Catuira is facing visa cancellation and possible deportation from South Korea.

On February 10, the Korean Immigration Service issued a number of measures against Catuira. These included the cancellation of his visa and a departure order to leave the country by March 7. It also threatened him with forcible deportation to his home country of the Philippines.

The Korean Immigration Service also cancelled his employer’s permit to hire migrant workers. After taking the matter to court, Seoul's 12th Administrative Court ruled on March 2 in favour of suspending Catuira’s visa cancellation and order of departure.

This suspension order is only a temporary measure and will only last until the end of the appeals case.

Catuira immediately applied for an extension of his visa to cover the time needed to find a new employer. Short-term visa extensions for job seekers are routine and are usually processed on the same day as application.

However, Catuira was forced to wait two weeks for a response.

Finally, on March 17 Catuira was informed by the Korean Immigration Service that his extension application had been denied and he was to leave Korea by March 31 or face forcible deportation.

It appears that the Korean Immigration Service is willing to use any means possible, including ignoring a court decision, to target the MTU.

The MTU was formed in April 2005 by migrant workers in Korea. Many of the MTU's members are undocumented immigrants.

Most of its members are South-East Asian workers who are working in menial jobs for poverty wages because they are unable to find employment in their own country. These workers are subject to discrimination and form a “third class” within the workforce.

They face low wages, poor working conditions, and under the current visa system they have limited freedom to change their employer.

These workers make up a super-exploited subsection of the working class and they perform dirty, dangerous and difficult work.

The MTU is not recognised as a legal union. Since its inception, the South Korean government has waged a war on the MTU.

Six of its officers have been arrested and five have been deported.

The attempt to deport Catuira can only be seen as part of the larger war on organised labour and immigrants.

The visa cancellation order and non-extension has sparked international outrage from NGOs and human rights groups.

Amnesty International issued statements on February 18 and March 2 demanding the immediate restoration and extension of Catuira’s visa status.

Amnesty has issued the following demands:
•Restore Catuira’s visa status and refrain from forcibly deporting him;
•immediately stop all practices which result in obstacles or deterrents to actively participating in trade unions;
•immediately remove obstacles to participating in the MTU, in particular by recognising its status as a legal union in South Korea in line with domestic and international law and standards.

[Please support Amnesty International's online petition.]

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