Immigration policy of South Korea

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In South Korea, immigration policy is handled by the immigration services of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Nationality Act, Immigration Control Act, Multicultural Families Support Act, and the Framework Act on Treatment of Foreigners are the foundations of immigration policy in Korea. The Korean government initiated a discussion in 2003 on establishing an independent immigration office to accommodate fast-growing immigrant and to prepare inclusive and rational immigration policies; however, there has been little progress. The Foreigner Policy Committee, headed by the Prime Minister, coordinates foreigner-related policies which were handled by many ministries. However, its role is limited because of a shortage of resources and manpower. The establishment of an Immigration Office is expected to solve these problems by concentrating all related resources and manpower under one umbrella.[1] According to the UN Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration revised in 1998, long-term international immigration is recorded after an individual enters a country and establishes his place of residence there for one year or more. Therefore, when the Korean government develops new policies immigrant laborers and children of illegal migrants should be counted (to follow this guideline).


Korea as a sending country[edit]

Korea was a sending country which sent farmers, miners, nurses and laborers to the United States, Germany and the Middle East. The Korean diaspora around the world consisted of 6.82 million people, as of 2009; there were 2.34 million Koreans in China and 2.1 million Korean Americans. The total Korean diaspora (which reached over seven million in 2007) declined by 0.22 million in 2009.[2]

Korea as a receiving country[edit]

After the 1988 Seoul Olympics Korea opened its border to the general public, which resulted in increased exchanges with foreign countries. The United Nations declared Korea an official receiving country in 2007, and the number of foreigners in Korea grew from 0.39 million in 1997 to one million in 2007. Among these, temporary laborers were 0.63 million and foreigners who married Korean nationals were 0.10 million. The number of illegal immigrants were 0.23 million. The primary sending countries were mostly Asian, such as China, Vietnam, Mongolia, the Philippines and Bangladesh; however, some immigrants come from Nigeria, Ghana, Russia and the U.S.[3]


Economic growth[edit]

Korea experienced government-initiated rapid economic growth beginning during the 1970s, known as the "miracle of Han River". Until the end of the 1980s, Korea sustained its development without foreign laborers due to sufficient labor. However, during the 1990s the low birth rate and growing payroll costs caused a labor shortage (especially in the voluntary sector).

Rural female shortage[edit]

With development and urbanization, many people left rural areas. Young people headed for cities in search of better jobs and a better standard of living. Continuing an agrarian and Confucian society tradition, the eldest sons were left behind with their parents. This trend caused a chronic shortage of marriageable women in rural areas. International marriage began in rural areas, and most international-marriage cases are handled by dating service companies with commission.[4]


Nationality Act[edit]

Effective June 14, 1998, persons with at least one Korean parent are automatically granted Korean nationality from birth, regardless of their decision on whether to choose the nationality of the foreign parent or country of birth (if born outside Korea). The requirements for General Naturalization are as follows:

  • Must have had domicile address in the Republic of Korea for more than five consecutive years
  • Must be a legal adult, according to Korean civil law
  • Must have good conduct
  • Must have the ability to maintain a living standard on his/her own assets or skills (or is a dependent member of a family capable of that)
  • Must have basic knowledge befitting a Korean national (such as an understanding of the Korean language, customs and culture[5]

National plan[edit]

Its vision is a world-class Korea, where foreigners live in harmony with Koreans.

National competitiveness
  • Attracting talent
  • Attracting foreign workers for balanced national development
  • Creating a foreigner-friendly living environment
Social integration
  • Promoting understanding of a multicultural society
  • Helping immigrants through marriage settle
  • Creating a sound environment for multicultural children
  • Creating a friendly environment for the Korean diaspora
Law enforcement
  • Enforcing immigration laws
  • Managing borders and information on foreigners to protect national security
  • Securing solid citizens
Human rights
  • Preventing discrimination and protecting human rights
  • Protecting the human rights of foreigners in detention
  • Establishing an effective system for determining refugee status and supporting refugees[6]


As described in the national plan for immigration policy, the Korean government desires a world-class Korea where foreigners live in harmony with Koreans. However, critics contend that the Korean government’s goals, strategies and policies are fundamentally discriminatory.[7]

Temporary workers and illegal immigrants[edit]

Since 1991 Korea has experienced a large influx of foreign workers, and the government has utilized trainee programs since 1992. About 10,000 Asian workers came to Korea under this program in 1992, and there were about 57,000 trainees in Korea in June 1996. However, the trainee program experienced problems: the trainees became undocumented workers due to a difference in wages and since they were not classified as laborers, they were not protected by the Labor Standard Law. The Employment Permit Program for foreigners (the government’s foreign-labor policy since 2004) is a product achieved by a decade of interaction between Korean citizens and foreign migrant workers. However, these issues have more details to be resolved. On the legal front, the Korean state still allows foreigners to apply for low-wage jobs and excludes them from social benefits. The social dimension of nationhood is shown by public-opinion polls of Korean citizens' attitudes towards foreign workers, which demonstrate discrimination.

Immigration violations of human rights[edit]

There are many reports from legal and illegal immigrants which have jailed in many prisons in South Korea because of small problems or misunderstanding their visas for long time. beside there are some reports about beating the prisoners. South Korea immigration also forcing them for buying the deportation ticket without any consideration. Since they broke the law it is only natural they pay for their mistakes.

Foreign brides and children of multicultural families[edit]

The treatment of foreign brides in Korea and their multicultural children is a political issue, covered by the media and the subject of public debate on multiculturalism. Sending countries are concerned about their immigrants, due to discrimination against foreigners (except for Westerners) in Korea. Since most immigration to Korea comes from Southeast Asia, immigrant treatment (particularly abuse of foreign brides) provokes domestic and diplomatic tensions. Koreans are conflicted about immigration, which is frequently so focused on the birth-rate problem that it is more properly called "bride-importing" than immigration.[8]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Jaehong Kim. "[Interview] Head of immigration service". LawTimes. 
  2. ^ Overseas Korean Foundation. "Korean Diasporas Statistics". [dead link]
  3. ^ the National Statistics Office. "Immigrants in Korea". Archived from the original on June 30, 2008. 
  4. ^ Paper= Global migration and South Korea: foreign workers, foreign brides and the making of a multicultural society (Ethnic and Racial Studies Vol. 32 No. 1 January 2009 pp. 70-92, Andrew Eungi Kim)
  5. ^ "Evaluation". 
  6. ^ "Basic Plan" (PDF). 
  7. ^ Attorney Jeonghoon Jang. "Korean-language source". Beautiful Foundation. 
  8. ^ Prof. Robert Kelly. "Korea's Slow Boiling Demographic Crisis". Asian Security & US Foreign Relations Blog.