HireChance Empowers Refugees in Korea by Selling Coffee

Thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers are stranded in Korea awaiting refugee status to survive. In 2019, there were only 3 successful appeals out of 3,478 applications. Since 1994, over 70,000 asylum applications have been filed in Korea. Countless refugees are still seeking new hope for their life with an average of 5,000 asylum seekers per year. Among various coffee brands in Korea, HireChance has explored a new path to positively impacting refugees in Korea by selling coffee. It funds career-building online tech and language education for refugees through the sale of its coffee. South Korea offers a humanitarian permit for those who meet the criteria if they can’t get refugee status. Permits can be extended on a yearly basis. It allows them to work and live in South Korea until it is safe for them to return back to their home country. 

Hirechance Coffee

In July 2020, Seoulz interviewed Craig LaTouche, the CEO of HireChance, to learn more about the backstory of the startup, the progress and difficulties so far, and his thoughts regarding refugee empowerment. Notably, HireChance was honorably mentioned in Seoulz’s previous article, as one of the great social impact startups in Korea

Empathy for Refugees in Korea

– the lowest visa acceptance, no protections, no identities

Craig’s initial reason for establishing Hirechance was to help those Yemeni asylum-seekers in Jeju. All three founders of HireChance are foreigners residing in Korea. As a foreigner, Craig understands the difficulty of staying and working legally under restricted visa policies. He has lived in Korea for 12 years and noticed many foreigners struggle to stay in Korea. The struggle has increased in 2020/2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has resulted in suspended international fights which further delays the refugee screening application process.

“Some companies would rather hire Koreans than foreigners with higher eligibility. There are too many uncertainties, language barriers, and cultural difficulties,” said the CEO of Hirechance, Craig LaTouche. 

The situation of the refugees in Korea is worse than ever before

According to the Korea Herald, Korea has one of the lowest refugee acceptance rates among developed countries. The refugee acceptance rate for the past four years was 3.2 percent on average. The reason for such a low acceptance rate is the concerns of the Korean government in regards to those abusing the refugee system to seek economic opportunities. Those few that do get granted asylum status can only do labor work. Moreover, they cannot become ‘normal’ citizens.

“With the number of asylum-seekers topping 70,000, we hope that the government draws up ways not only to rapidly process refugee applications but also to make them more independent, professional and transparent,” said Koh Eun-ji, an activist with the Nancen Refugee Rights Center.

Craig expressed strong empathy for those refugees and asylum-seekers. He recalled a miserable story of a refugee family being trapped inside Incheon Airport’s transit zone for over 10 months with no support. The only support they receive comes from non-government organizations. Currently, the family only earned the right to begin the refugee application process, which could take another three years. Cases like this are an example of the Korean government’s failure to uphold international standards in protecting refugees. 

High-quality coffee benefits refugees, EdTech, and society

Korea has a popular coffee culture and is one of the leading coffee markets in the world. HireChance sources its coffee from Colombia and Yemen, two refugee-producing regions that have high-quality coffee beans.

Introducing Esperanza Coffee 

Esperanza Coffee

Esperanza Coffee is HireChance’s first coffee. It is a delicious single-origin Castillo varietal specialty coffee from Ínsula farm in the department of Quindío, at the heart of the Colombian Coffee Axis (expertly harvested by José Eladio Gaviria). In addition, it holds a cupping score of 85.75. The only way to get Esperanza in Korea is through Hirechance and their local partners.

HireChance trades directly with farmers to ensure they receive fair pay. Direct trade improves the livelihood of coffee growers and keeps sustainable markets. It sends the coffee to the partner roaster (Lets Coffee) in the city of Daegu. HireChance then brings the coffee to the market through online & offline B2B and B2C channels, so the coffee is served among individual customers or restaurants and offices mostly in Korea and the US.

Furthermore, the startup invests 20% of its sales to provide refugees in Korea with access to online education courses through its partners. So far, it has organized a free Korean language program with Korean EdTech company Eggbun for 50 refugees and asylum seekers, offering them an 8-week education scholarship. The education programs provide a clear path for refugees’ career development. Therefore, this is a win-win scenario for farmers, refugees, employers, and society at large.

Korean language education empowers refugees, offering chances and hope

For those asylum-seekers in Korea without knowing Korean, the language barrier blocks most of their chances and hope. 

“Some refugees left their country with professional technical skills or academic backgrounds, but here they work in the factory for the whole year, and that’s the best thing they can do,” said Craig. 

Learning Korean can make their life much easier and increase their career potential. 

Thus, HireChance partnered with the EdTech institutions and the refugee community and launched the first Korean language education program for refugees. Those who apply can receive free access to the mobile course to learn Korean, and obtain a certificate after the program.

The percentage of refugees enrolled in higher education stands at 3%. HireChance’s core mission is to offer more access to education for refugees in Korea by providing fully funded, certified courses in languages and tech. Utilizing the talent and potential of refugees, skills in language, and tech gives them a higher chance of achieving formal labor market access (LMA).

Selling more coffee to help more refugees

HirechanceThe most difficult and important task for Craig is to sell more coffee. “Drink Coffee, help Refugee” is not merely a slogan, but indeed their mission. Craig plans to promote the coffee to more offices and restaurants this year. However, the Corona pandemic and social distancing have impacted their ability to sell. HireChance plans to launch more programs besides language education in the future, to empower more refugees in Korea. It has already ensured partnerships with EdTech companies, NGOs, and refugee communities. However, all programs depend on sales.

“There are so many refugees waiting for education and chances, only if we sell more coffee, we can continue to help more of them.”

Craig and his team are trying to promote their brand by sharing their story. 

Expecting the future of refugees in Korea

– life is not just making a living but engaging and contributing

Craig also shared an inspiring and hopeful refugee story. Among the applicants who applied for the Korean language program, there is a mother who is eager to learn Korean. The reason is simply that she wants to talk with her 4-year-old daughter in Korean. The family came to Korea in 2013, and the child received Korean education in the refugee community. It is hard to make a living in Korea, but there is also hope and ambition beyond mere survival. The refugees are struggling for life. They want to live decently as normal citizens. As well as contribute to society.

Craig expects to see more refugees empowered and recognized by Korean society.

“Even if the visa policy seems to be difficult to change in recent years, I believe if more companies or communities raise awareness and offer help, more refugees will get empowerment. And someday, those refugees can be identified and accepted by society. The refugees can make contributions to the society, and embrace the new life in this globalized world, leaving their miserable memory behind.”

Julie Chen

Julie is a multicultural journalist at Seoulz. She is in charge of Seoulz's social media channels. She uploads the latest news and creates content on Korea tech and Korean market dynamics. She is currently studying Media and International Studies at Korea University.

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