One of many reasons behind recent measures made in Korea’s immigration policies relates to confronting modern-day state issues. Some of these issues include increasing the population growth and preserving Korean nationalism in light of globalization. Presently, the Republic of Korea (South Korea herein) possesses one of the world’s lowest birthrates and highest aging populations internationally. In addition, the country also possesses an economic insecurity with the existent labor shortage in many of its lower sector jobs. Realizing the need to reverse these trends, the Korean government has focused on increasing its human capital with the facilitation of revisions to its Immigration and Foreign Labor Policy. However, these revisions while positive in conscription also contain restrictions for foreign residents in obtaining Korean nationality.
This paragraph is an exert from my 1st thesis dissertation paper written and published during my 2013-2014 graduate year at Korea University. If anyone would like to read it in full length a copy of it can be reserved, rented, or read at Korea University’s Anam campus main hall library (๑>ᴗ<๑)
Since the 1980s, when South Korea was emerging back onto world spotlight as runner-up to host the 1988 Summer Olympics the Korean government made the decision to open up its doors to foreign labor, foreign companies, foreign culture, and foreign residents. However, it was not until the mid 2000s that the First Basic Plan for Immigration Policy (2008-2010) was initiated to delegate how the Korean government would address the steadily growing population of foreign residents who did not possess Korean nationality or ancestry.
Under the First Basic Plan lead by Korea’s Ministry of Justice (MOJ) the Korean government officially released an immigration policy specifically for its foreign residents. Under the immigration policy the government introduced set measures to help its foreign residents adapt more to (*their newfound life within) Korean society. The rise in the promotion in the First Basic Plan was largely influenced by the Korean government’s open acknowledgement in needing to change the national culture of homogeneity to better meet the needs of a multicultural populace.
Presently, South Korea possesses nearly 2 million foreign residents. While the percentage is equal to just 3.4% its significance has received much attention. In recent years and decades, individual foreign workers or workers a part of the Employment Permit System(EPS), international students on a KGSP scholarship, or international brides/spouses primarily from other Asian nations have resided in South Korea with the goal of receiving a new life – through work opportunities, educational pursuits, or raising a family. These residents, however, remained disenfranchised from both civil and social rights due to the nature of their residential status. However, under the MOJ’s revised Basic Plans government policies have undergone revisions to support foreigner residents with: job support & aide, as well as, increase the promotion of cultural diversity between foreign residents and ethnic Koreans through the initiation of cultural engaging programs.
One sure example of the Korean government’s commitment to better assist its foreign residential population was the establishment of Korea’s Global Centers. The global centers were created with the first wave of support in an attempt to create a central comprehensive center with multi-lingual staff to provide various services ranging in free or nominally discounted Korean language classes, job-search support, Korean(history, art, music,cooking, etc.) educational classes, business consultation& a start-up incubation space, legal counseling, foreign resident town meetings, and foreign-themed cultural events to the foreign resident community. Presently, more than a dozen of these centers are located in major cities throughout the country, with a substantial number of small centers deemed Global Villages located throughout Seoul.
While the Global Centers provide a tangible example of open support to foreign residents on the surface level the MOJ under the Korean government continues to create, initiate, and revise the country’s immigration goals and policies for its foreign residents. Recently, in 2013 the Second Basic Plan for Immigration Policy (2013-2017) was released. Constructed under a similar framework to the First Basic Plan the Second Basic Plan’s new focus encompassed re-defining the Korean government’s policy & action plans related to the rights for its foreign residents in an attempt to correct limitations noticed by the first. Throughout the past few years the Second Basic Plan has focused on actively ensuring that human rights and social benefits were no longer inhibited as in the past. In addition the plan also focused on further promoting multiculturalism in a positive light by highlighting positive contributions of immigrants in South Korea. Furthermore, the under the Second Basic Plan the Korean government approved expanding basic rights and opportunities for all foreigners who have chosen to reside in Korea.
Since its initiation the Second Basic Plan has not achieved all of its set goals. While, visibly(*especially since I lived in Korea throughout the period that this plan started) multiculturalism is viewed positively by a majority of Korea, foreign residents still face a non-favorable view in matters relating to further social integration and participation within Korean society. This is largely due to stigmatized views of foreign residents by Korean citizens, who do not accept the incorporation of ethnic and cultural differences within the Korean way of life.
Overall, multiculturalism in Korea remains an important issue for the Korean government. Multiculturalism, for those who are not familiar is a term that originates from ‘multi-culture’ and can be interpreted in many ways. In my thesis dissertation I find that multiculturalism entails maintaining diversity and the presence of ethnic cultures within a unified society, or state. With that said South Korea throughout the majority of its modern history has viewed itself as a homogeneous nation and people. This psyche remains instilled within the Korean mindset and majority of Korean society til this day. However, with the steadily growing rise in international marriages between Koreans and foreign brides/ spouses, individual foreign workers and EPS workers, and international & KGSP students residing in South Korea the Korean government must do more serve the needs of its growing diverse demographic, but also promote their assimilation and acceptance into Korean society.
The Korean government has remained supportive of its Second Basic Plan’s goals, which are presently in effect. Going forward the Korean government will focus on strengthening the social integration of South Korea’s foreign residents and re-defining the country’s national identity. As new policies are created foreign residents should remain hopeful that with continued support received and multiculturalism promoted eventually the development of bilateral social integration between foreigners and ethnic Koreans will take place (*for more further inclusion within the society).
If you would like to read more of my published thesis or learn more about South Korea’s recent immigration policies feel free to contact me via the contact form in my contact page. I have tons of academic articles, reports, and papers on this topic of interest（・ｗ・）