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South Koreans ‘more receptive’ to migrant workers

The government changed the work visa policy to allow more expatriate workers amid a demographic decline

A Catholic priest blesses migrant Filipino Catholics on their birthday in a church in South Korea

A Catholic priest blesses migrant Filipino Catholics on their birthday in a church in South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Moyse Cheonan)

Published: January 18, 2023 11:53 AM GMT

Updated: January 18, 2023 11:57 AM GMT

More than 50 percent of South Koreans consider migrant workers a necessary force in their nation that faces declining birth rates amid the rising elderly population.

Some 57.3 percent of Koreans view migrant workers as “necessary,” shows data from a survey among 1,000 people by the Asia Center of Seoul National University, Korea Joongang Daily reported on Jan. 16.

Only around 37.3 percent of the respondents objected to the need for migrant workers in the country.

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Yoon In-jin, a professor of sociology at Korea University stated that nations like South Korea are moving towards attracting more skilled migrant laborers to compensate for the lack of workforce in their regions.

“[Countries] are moving to secure essential manpower to work in industries that locals are reluctant to work in, and to attract high-skilled professionals and international students to engage in knowledge-based industries,” said Yoon told Korea Joongang Daily.

Yoon cited the cases in nations such as Korea, Japan, China, and Australia which are moving towards bringing in more migrant laborers through various attractive visa processes.

Since September 2022, President Yoon Suk Yeol’s administration has brought several changes in its work visa policy to accept more foreign workers in the country.

The Employment and Labor Ministry raised the quota of E-9 visas for non-professional employment for 2023 from 59,000 to 69,000.

Yoon says that the cultural differences and the socio-economic conditions within the country were a prime concern for the government to ensure migrant laborers and native Koreans find ways to live in harmony.

“It is becoming more important for the country to find ways for people of different cultural backgrounds to live harmoniously together,” Yoon said.

The survey also factored in questions related to the effects of migrant laborers on societal harmony and employability in the nation.

Among the survey respondents, 49.6 percent rejected the possibility of social unrest owing to the increased number of migrant laborers, whereas 43.1 percent agreed with the statement.

When asked about the reduction in the employability of Korean citizens due to migrant laborers, 53.9 percent rejected the possibility, whereas 40.4 percent felt that Koreans may face difficulty in getting jobs.

The unemployment rate in South Korea dropped to 3.6 percent in 2021 as compared to 3.9 percent in 2020 as per World Bank data.

According to the Korean National Statistical Office, the number of migrant laborers in the country in 2022 was 843,000, compared to about 900,000 between 2015-2016. The decline is attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic.

South Korea is facing an unprecedented drop in live births along with an increasingly aging population.

The latest data from Statistical Office shows South Korea recorded the lowest of 20,658 live births in October 2022, dropping by 0.4 percent in comparison to 20,749 births in October 2021.

The agency reported the population of South Korea was 51.74 million in October 2021, which decreased by 0.2 percent (91,000 persons) from 2020.

The proportion of the population aged 65 and above in the country is expected to rise from 17.5 percent in 2022 to 46.4 percent in 2070, the agency predicted.

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