Korean Immigration and Ageing population

The Financial Times has an interesting article which echoes another one I read last year about a ‘perceived’ problem.  That being in order to keep up with the country’s production, they need to allow more immigrants because the birthrate is one of the lowest in the world right now.  So as more ages, less are available to replace, thus the country’s output will be slowed.  Here is the article (so you don’t have to register for the FT.  If you ever do, may I suggest using 10 Minute Email to do so.)

January 14, 2013 9:54 am

Head of BoK urges Korean immigration reform

By Simon Mundy in Seoul

The head of South Korea’s central bank has called on the incoming government to loosen restrictions on immigration to ease a looming labour shortage in one of the world’s most rapidly ageing societies.

“I believe it would be appropriate for us to embrace migrant workers with future-oriented and open immigration policies,” Kim Choong-soo, governor of the Bank of Korea, told a press conference on Monday, making an unusual intervention into a politically controversial subject.

“We’d be able to utilise these workers coming from outside in the right parts of the economy, and regain societal vitality at the same time.”

Mr Kim’s comments come as South Korean leaders are trying to find ways to prevent the country’s low birth rate from stalling its economic rise.

Ethnic minorities account for just over 60,000 of South Korea’s 50m citizens, and the first non-ethnically Korean lawmaker, Philippines-born Jasmine Lee, was elected only last year.

Mr Kim said that South Korea should follow the example of the US, which accepts more than 1m migrant workers each year, or risk draining momentum from the economy.

South Korea’s strict immigration laws have exacerbated the effect of one of the world’s lowest birth rates – an average of about 1.2 children per woman – caused in part by the high cost of childcare and after-school tuition, seen as essential by most parents.

If the current trend continues, the ratio of workers to retired people will fall from 4.5 to 1.2 by 2050, estimates the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Park Geun-hye, who will be sworn in South Korea’s first female president on February 25, has promised to expand state childcare provision and slash university tuition fees: both moves that could boost birth rates by lowering the cost of child rearing. But she has not spelt out detailed plans on migration rules.

Immigration to South Korea has gradually crept up over most of the past two decades, driven mainly by ethnic Koreans returning from China or the US, foreign marriages and poor migrants from southeast Asia seeking unskilled work. But it has stalled recently, with the number of migrant workers falling by 9 per cent in the year to last November.

Restrictions on most of those migrants remain strict, and many, especially from non-Korean backgrounds, find it difficult to integrate into a conservative society.

In most cases, foreign workers are not allowed to migrate with their families or apply for South Korean citizenship, and must leave the country within five years of arrival.

South Korea’s ageing society means it should reform policy to increase the number of foreign workers to 4m by 2030, compared with about 540,000 today, said Chung Ki-seon, senior researcher at the IOM Migration Research and Training Centre.

But large-scale immigration reform could prove controversial, she added. “Some Koreans don’t like the idea of a multi-ethnic society . . . Even though the government recognises the necessity for more immigrants, our immigration policy is in many ways very closed.”

A further challenge is attracting skilled workers – currently accounting for less than a tenth of the migrant labour force – who can add value to an increasingly advanced economy. The government could consider using the foreign aid budget to fund the education of children in poor countries, who could then be encouraged to move to South Korea, Ms Chung said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013.

There is definitely a conundrum here with immigration.  The government will have to eventually decide on whether the lingering resentment of a ‘foreign invasion’ outweighs the benefits South Korea’s ability to keep up with production.  Eventually I see this as being the only way for them not to ‘loose face‘ by allowing their growth to halt/reverse.  Sadly, this is both a wrong perspective, growth always stops at some point and continues later, but also there will be many, many more news articles slamming this idea and much more slanted reports of foreigners causing trouble.  Oh the Anti-English Spectrum will have a field day with this!

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Author: DragonDon

Having a love of travel has lead me to move to South Korea in 2010. Moving to an Eastern culture from a Western culture is a wild experience and there is never a dull day!

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