Mandate on the move: Withdrawing the mandatory testing for foreign workers in South Korea

Mayer Brown

Authors: JoonBeom Pae, Minju Kim and  Youmi Kim.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government reversed course on its controversial order on the COVID-19 testing of foreign workers in Seoul after receiving criticism from diplomatic missions and commerce organizations. 

The administrative order, which came into force on March 17, 2021, initially required all foreign nationals working in Seoul to undergo COVID-19 screenings, and all employers of foreign nationals in Seoul to take measures so that their foreign employees will get tested for COVID-19 by March 31, 2021.

The order has since been revised.  Employers are now only “strongly advised” to encourage their foreign workers to undergo testing by March 31, 2021, as well as their Korean employees in workplaces at high risk for COVID-19 transmission, and foreign workers are also only “strongly advised” to get tested during the applicable period.  As a result of the scaled down order, we no longer expect violators to be penalized for failure to meet the recommendations. 

Incheon also backed down from its original mandate and instead recommended (as opposed to required) employers with five or more workers to take measures to have their foreign employees get tested, for which the applicable period ended on March 24. 

Gyeonggi province wrapped up two weeks of mandatory testing for foreign workers on March 22, 2021.

While certain cities and provinces are revising or ending their administrative orders in light of recent criticism, mandatory testing policies in varying degrees remain in place in other regions across South Korea.  For example, South Jeolla province kept its order to test foreign workers in March, but said it had revised its policies to include more Koreans in the category of people who should be tested.  Readers should be aware of new developments in their respective jurisdiction and make sure to check the latest local rules.