Using foreign talent in Korea

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January 21, 2008

President-elect Lee Myung-bak has said he will employ foreigners in top government posts. Recently, the Financial Supervisory Service appointed an American, William Ryback, as its vice governor. Ryback was deputy chief executive and head of supervision of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority before moving to Korea. However, it put some limits on his role as a “special counselor.” By doing so, it raised the suspicion that the FSS is not making the most of Ryback’s abilities.
Against this backdrop, Lee has demonstrated a firm determination to work with talented people regardless of nationality. He appointed an Englishman, David Eldon, as joint committee chairman of his transition team’s special committee on strengthening national competitiveness. Eldon was formerly non-executive chairman of the Dubai International Financial Centre Authority.
The appointment shows how well Lee applies pragmatic thinking to reality in order to promote national interests.
Under current law, foreigners can also be appointed as public officials. The State Public Officials Act Article 26(3) stipulates that foreigners can be appointed as state public officials in the areas of research, technology and education, except in the following fields ― the exercise of public power or areas related to national security or confidentiality.
However, it is applicable only when qualified Koreans are hard to find. As a result, the appointment of foreigners as public officials is limited to a few occupational categories such as contract-based teachers, researchers and consultants.
In the private sector, where the principle of pure blood is rapidly being replaced by a mixing of the races, the employment of foreigners has become commonplace. The chief executives of 100 companies in Korea are foreigners. This is more than 10 percent of the top 1,000 companies in terms of domestic total sales in 2006.
Some 58.5 percent of Korean conglomerates are actively poised to bring in global talent. In this regard, the government is driving forward with its revision of the nationality law in a direction that facilitates the employment of capable ethnic Koreans who hold foreign citizenship, by permitting dual nationalities in a limited manner. The government is well aware of the importance of securing top talent in the era of global competition.
The public sector’s competitiveness also depends on how well we secure talent. If it is not directly linked to national security, it is in line with the spirit of our times that public posts be widely open to foreigners. This will help prepare the government to meet global standards, rather than being just a big fish in a little pond. It is our shared view that the State Public Official Act should be revised to expand the scope of employment for foreigners in public posts.

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