South Korea has suspended permits for Burmese migrant workers after Korean police discovered “illegal activity” being carried out by migrants, although it declined to say what these were.The temporary suspension was announced by the South Korean embassy in Rangoon, and targeted the Shwe Inwa agency which sends Burmese workers abroad, an official from a similar agency in Rangoon told DVB.

“The letter said that as long as the Korean police harbour doubts about the dishonest activities of the said company, the permit is to be suspended. Now that doubt is confirmed,” he said.

The South Korean embassy in Rangoon refused to elaborate on the exact reasons for the suspension, although it did confirm that the announcement had been made.

The so-called Employment Permit System (EPS) with which Burmese workers are supplied directly to South Korea started in November 2007.

Burmese workers who want to work in South Korea have to study the Korean language and culture prior to going, and only those who pass the exams are selected, the official said.

“Workers who pass the language exams are announced online straight away, in association with Shwe Inwa and the Korean labour department,” he said. “Employers choose the people they like from them and send those who are eligible.”

The permit costs around $US1000, and migrants receive wages of up to $US900 per month, making it popular in a country in which the average wage stands at less than $US200 per year, according to the US state department.

As of October 2008, more than 33,000 people took the Korean language exams across Burma, while only 1300 were chosen and sent to South Korea.

Over 2000 people in Rangoon are currently waiting to be sent to South Korea through EPS, a staff of Shwe Inwa told DVB on condition of anonymity.