Only about 30 years ago, aliens in Korea were barely different from extraterrestrial beings. They had to put up with eyes from people and sometimes even astonishment and scorn. Now in 2015, there are 1.85 million foreigners in Korea and it's still a drop in the bucket compared to countries in Europe introduced in the previous articles. However, since Korea has been a very static bucket where almost no drops from outside have flowed in or out for more than five thousand years, those few drops are enough to bring social chaos. In this article, INDIGO goes over current states of foreigners in Korea along with national sentiment toward them and the alien regulations.
Current States of Foreigners in Korea
As stated in the introduction, there are about 1.85 million foreigners now in Korea and it is about 4% of the whole population. Since 2000, the number has continuously increased.
People come to Korea for various reasons. About 42% of them are foreign laborers and 16% are here married to a Korean spouse. Also, there are 12% of children from multicultural families who acquire Korean nationality by birth. The rest includes international students, people who visit Korea for business, and overseas Koreans who hold a foreign nationality
National Sentiment toward Foreigners
In case of the immigrants problem, the response of the Korean society does not seem to be a lot different from that of societies from other countries. While the perception is slowly getting better and better as time goes by, there are two major reasons why people still feel antipathy toward immigrants: economic problems and social disturbance. According to a research conducted by Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs in 2011, 50.3% of respondent agreed that the increase of immigrants will make it harder for the Korean people to get jobs. 37.3% was worried that the Korean people would have less welfare benefit because of immigrants. Actually, such antipathy and anxiety triggered by economic problems are very tricky because there are two aspects of economy affected by the influx of immigrants. Worries on losing jobs and less welfare are not groundless but foreign laborers who work in poor workplaces receiving a minumum wage now became so irreplaceable that without them, manufacturing in Korea would suffer heavily.
Apprehension related to social disturbance mainly appears in the form of fear on crime by foreigners. Hatred aroused from such fear is especially severe toward Korean Chinese and illegal immigrants from Southeast Asia. In fact, considering the fact that crime committed by foreigners is increasing (2368 in 2000, 6743 in 2005, 14619 in 2010, Statics Korea, 2013) and crime rate by foreigners is relatively higher than by Koreans, those concerns seem to be natural and reasonable. In addition, as brutal crime cases by foreigners are being spotlighted starting from the accident in 2002 when two Korean girls had been killed by a U.S armored vehicle to recent case of murder by Oh Wonchun, antipathy toward foreigners among Korean people is expanding its size.
However, we need to be aware of the importance of distinguishing such apprehension from xenophobia. Korea is not the only country with baseless hatred toward foreigners. Immigrants from Asia and the Middle East have been major targets of skinheads for a long time in Europe and Russia. Also, countries in North Europe which received immigrants without any proper regulations once in 1970s are now suffering from racial discrimination that often ends up as extreme violence. However, in case of Korea, there is one more trait that concerns with this issue: ethnicity. Unlike countries in Europe where many ethnic groups naturally blended together since early times or US where the whole country was built based on immigrants, for Korea which remained as a single-race nation for thousands of years, sharing lives with foreigners who have different appearances and languages is still unfamiliar. As a result, people from overseas countries often identify Koreans as people who have exclusive attitude toward foreigners. However, this kind of attitude definitely does not seem to be an ideal one for today's world where the borders between countries are radically fading.
Alien regulations in Korea
Last year, the ruling party proposed a new law guaranteeing migrant children's rights. The law clearly states that every child in Korea who does not hold a Korean nationality should not be discriminated and receive equal opportunities of social welfare and education as children who hold a Korean nationality. In order to do that, the law also allows their parents to stay with their children and guarantee every cost of nurturing and education. The law appears to be adequate, but we are left with so many questions. Is it alright to let illegal immigrants stay in Korea if they have children here? Wouldn't there be any complaints among people if they find out that their tax is used to feed children of illegal immigrants who don't even pay taxes?
On the other hand, there are over seven hundred Syrian migrants who had not been legally approved as refugees even though they satisfy every condition for it. Korean Immigration Office temporarily allowed them to stay in Korea for humanitarian reasons but without the official approval, they have to put up with so many inconveniences in their lives in Korea. For example, they cannot have insurances nor international driver's license. They are not even allowed to travel to other countries. Lives of foreign laborers are not so much different from those of Syrian people, too. According to the statistics from National Tax Service, the average payment foreign laborers got from 2008 to 2014 was 59% lower than that of Korean laborers. Furthermore, they are also suffering from social prejudice and cold eyes toward them including racial discrimination and shapeless fear of crime.
Just like discriminating someone because of his appearance is considered wrong, discriminating someone for the reasons that have nothing to do with his own will is equally unjust. Likewise, the fact that we are now in a safe country living decent lives is not something we have achieved but was given. Along with institutional improvement, what we are left with is to put those ideas into actions now.
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