Foreigners in Korea

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Following the partition of Korea in the aftermath of the Korean War, the percent of foreigners in South Korea has risen to 3.4%, or about two million of the total population (half of them Chinese, with Americans and Vietnamese tied for second place at around 150,000 or 6-7% of total).[1][2] North Korea largely remains ethnically homogeneous with a small Chinese expatriate community and a few Japanese migrants.[3]


King Gojong called foreigners "uneducated louts," motivated by "lechery and sensuality."[4] The Joseon Dynasty was widely referred to as a "hermit kingdom" for sealing itself off from foreign influence. Joseon diplomacy mainly involved the Sadae ("serving the great") policy toward Imperial China. Concurrently maintained (and jointly referred to as "serving the great and relations with neighbor policy" Hangul사대교린 정책; Hanja事大交隣政策) was the Gyorin policy of amicable relations with neighbouring countries; however this did not result in significant influx of foreign persons but rather sporadic trade delegations and diplomatic missions: envoys from the Ryūkyū Kingdom were received by Taejo of Joseon in 1392, 1394 and 1397. Siam sent an envoy to Taejo's court in 1393.[5]

The Joseon kingdom made every effort to maintain a friendly bilateral relationship with China for reasons having to do with both realpolitik and a more idealist Confucian worldview wherein China was seen as the center of a Confucian moral universe.[6] In the fifth through tenth centuries, Arabs sailed the Indian Ocean, and Arab merchants and sailors eventually landed in Korea during the Silla dynasty.[7] These contacts eventually broke off starting in the 15th century, resulting in the Arabs' eventual assimilation into the Korean population.

North Korea[edit]

The foreign relations of North Korea are often tense and unpredictable. The number of foreign residents is correspondingly very small, and is essentially limited to Japanese spouses of "repatriating" Zainichi Koreans, expatriates from the People's Republic of China, foreign diplomats, and a few defectors such as James Joseph Dresnok and Joseph T. White.

South Korea[edit]

South Korea is among the world's most ethnically homogeneous nations, i.e. those with absolute majority of the population of one ethnicity.[8] Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, South Korea has been far more open to foreign, especially American, influence than North Korea.

There were 1,741,919 total foreign residents in Korea in 2015,[9] compared to 1,576,034 in 2013.[10] As of September 2015, according to the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, the foreign population in South Korea, including migrant workers, increased to 1.8 million, accounting for 3.4% of the total population.[11]

The biggest group of foreigners in Korea have always been the Chinese.[12] In 1970, an estimated 120,000 Chinese resided in South Korea.[citation needed] However, due to economic restrictions by the South Korean government, the number may have fallen to as low as 21,000.[citation needed] In the 10-year period starting in the late 1990s, the number of Chinese in Korea exploded. In mid 2000s it was estimated that there are at least 300,000[13] and possibly more than 1,000,000[14] In 2009 it was estimated there are about 450,000 Chinese Koreans.[12] Chinese citizens living in South Korea as permanent residents or illegal immigrants, including Joseonjok (Hangul조선족; Hanja朝鮮族, Chinese citizens of Korean descent) and Han Chinese. There is a large Chinese community in Seoul's southwestern area (Daerim/Namguro) and a smaller but established community in Seongnam. Ethnic Chinese in Korea are known as Hwagyo (Hangul화교; Hanja華僑) by the Koreans.

There second biggest group of foreigners in South Korea are migrant workers from Southeast Asia[12] and increasingly from Central Asia (notably Uzbekistan, mostly ethnic Koreans from there, and Mongolians), and in the main cities, particularly Seoul, there is a small but growing number of foreigners related to business and education.

The number of marriages between Koreans and foreigners has risen steadily in the past few years. In 2005, 14% of all marriages in South Korea were marriages to foreigners (about 26,000 marriages); most were rural Korean men marrying other Asian women from poor backgrounds. Korean men in age brackets up to their 40s outnumber slightly younger Korean women, both due to a high sex ratio and the drop in the birth rate since the 1960s, leading to a huge demand for wives. Many Korean agencies encourage 'international' marriages to Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipina, Indonesian, and Thai women, adding a new degree of complexity to the issue of ethnicity.[15]

The number of expatriate English teachers hailing from English-speaking nations has increased from less than 1,000 in 1988 to over 20,000 in 2002,[16] and stood at more than 22,000 in 2010.[17] There are 28,500 United States military personnel and civilian employees throughout the country,[18] an increasing number of whom are also accompanied by family members.[citation needed]

Most Koreans still believe that their population is of a single racial bloodline,[17] and Korean media sometimes create the impression that foreigners are dangerous,[19] including requiring HIV/AIDS tests for non-ethnic Korean foreigners who work in South Korea.[4]


Number of foreign residents in South Korea up to 2016.[20][2][21][22]

Number of foreign residents in South Korea
Year Foreign resident population
1980 40,519
1990 100,000
1995 269,000
1998 308,339
2000 491,234
2002 629,006
2005 747,476
2007 1,066,273
2010 1,261,415
2011 1,395,077
2012 1,445,103
2013 1,576,034
2014 1,797,618
2015 1,899,519
2016 2,034,878
Percentage of foreigners residing in South Korea by their countries of origin

Nationalities of legal foreign immigrants in South Korea as of August 2016.[2]

Rank Country Population
1  China 1,045,533
2  United States 150,778
3  Vietnam 144,362
4  Thailand 92,417
5  Philippines 54,182
6  Uzbekistan 53,816
7  Cambodia 45,610
8  Indonesia 42,110
9  Japan 41,236
10  Mongolia 35,091
11    Nepal 33,221
12  Taiwan 30,985
13  Russia 30,098
14  Canada 27,363
15  Sri Lanka 27,360
16  Myanmar 21,534
17  Bangladesh 15,151
18  Pakistan 12,511
19  Hong Kong 11,460
20  India 10,637
21  Australia 9,764
22  United Kingdom 7,896
23  New Zealand 3,917
- Others 87,846
- Total 2,034,878

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 김강한 (2015-08-28). "외국인 주민이 5% 넘는 '다문화 도시' 전국 12곳". 조선일보. Retrieved 2015-09-04. 
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ CIA World Factbook North Korea
  4. ^ a b Rauhala, Emily (Dec 24, 2010). "South Korea: Should Foreign Teachers Be Tested for HIV?". Time Magazine. 
  5. ^ Goodrich, L. Carrington et al. (1976). Dictionary of Ming biography, 1368-1644 (明代名人傳), Vol. II, p. 1601.
  6. ^ Mansourov, Alexandre Y. "Will Flowers Bloom without Fragrance? Korean-Chinese Relations," Harvard Asia Quarterly (Spring 2009).
  7. ^ "Muslim society in Korea is developing and growing". Pravda.Ru. June 11, 2002. Retrieved 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  8. ^ " Korea's ethnic nationalism is a source of both pride and prejudice, according to Gi-Wook Shin]". The Korea Herald. August 2, 2006.
  9. ^ "Number of foreign residents in S. Korea triples over ten years". Retrieved 2016-11-21. 
  10. ^ "2013 Immigration Statistics Annual Report". Korea Immigration Service. Foreigner Policy Division. Retrieved 16 February 2015. 
  11. ^ 김강한 (2015-08-28). "외국인 주민이 5% 넘는 '다문화 도시' 전국 12곳". 조선일보. Retrieved 2015-09-04. 
  12. ^ a b c "More Than 1 Million Foreigners Live in Korea". 
  13. ^ Yonhap News Kim Hyung Jin (August 29, 2006) No 'real' Chinatown in S. Korea, the result of xenophobic attitudes. 2006
  14. ^ Tsinghua University. 2005
  15. ^ Onishi, Norimitsu. February 21, 2007. International Herald Tribune. Marriage brokers in Vietnam cater to S. Korean bachelors
  16. ^ "막가는 원어민 강사 골치". 
  17. ^ a b Lee, Jiyeon (February 3, 2010). "Animosity against English teachers in Seoul". GlobalPost. Retrieved December 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  18. ^ "Briefing by Defense Secretary Gates and ROK Minister Lee: U.S. troop levels in South Korea will remain at 28,500". U.S. Department of State. 17 October 2008. Archived from the original on April 6, 2013. Retrieved 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  19. ^ Glionna, John M. (February 24, 2009). "Trying to teach South Korea about discrimination". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  20. ^ "Official Korean Website". Retrieved 2016-11-22.  as cited by
  21. ^ Herald, The Korea (2014-09-04). "Defining racism in Korea". Retrieved 2016-11-22. 
  22. ^ "Number of foreign residents in S. Korea triples over ten years". Retrieved 2016-11-22. 

External links[edit]