Korea urged to fix immigration policies

One of an ongoing series of articles on Korean immigration policies or lack thereof, along with changing demographics:

In recent decades, South Korea has emerged as a global economic powerhouse and become a core member of the international community. Leading the transformation have been many Korean individuals and companies who have written success stories in different parts of the world.

Joining the league of advanced countries, the country has strengthened its overseas presence and raised its global profile both economically by expanding exports and diplomatically by increasing its donations to developing nations.

However, despite its successful ascension to the world stage, Korea is considered neither internationalized nor inclusive. Society here is still insular, failing to embrace different cultures, races and nationalities.

Such closed-mindedness is preventing Asia’s fourth-largest economy from moving forward, as the country is facing grave demographic challenges ― an aging population, a low birthrate and a declining workforce.

In this regard, creating an “inclusive society” to bridge the gap between Koreans and non-Koreans should be at the top of the agenda for the Moon Jae-in administration in 2021, to ensure sustainable growth and future prosperity for the country.

Reforming immigration policies

As Korea enters 2021 with its looming demographic crisis, attracting young, skilled immigrants through an open migration policy may be one of the key strategies to address the sharp decline in the population.

According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of foreign nationals staying in the country for more than three months was around 1.73 million as of December 2019 ― adding in short-term visitors, and the estimated number hit a record high of 2.52 million.

The number has been increasing almost annually from the 1.89 million tallied in 2015. With the stagnating native Korean population growth, the ratio of foreign nationals among the nation’s total population has also grown from 3.6 percent that year to 4.8 percent in 2019.

The Statistics Korea forecast in 2019 predicted that people with migrant backgrounds ― foreigners, naturalized Koreans, and second generation migrants ― are expected to account for more than 5 percent of the total population in 2024, which will constitute a “multicultural, multiracial society” according to OECD standards.

It is expected that foreign nationals will continue to play a more important part in Korean society, which means the country should lay the groundwork for inclusivity through detailed immigration policies.

These are important as they not only guide migrants’ integration into the economic, social, cultural and political spheres of society, but also shape how the native population perceives migrants and immigration.

Foreign residents and members of multicultural families living in the country shared with The Korea Times their thoughts on current immigration policies and what improvements the country needs to make in 2021.

“The biggest problem with the current immigration policies is that they are scattered across several ministries. The government needs a control tower to formulate integrated plans,” said Jasmine Lee, chairwoman of the Korea Cultural Diversity Organization.

Naturalized in Korea, Lee from the Philippines also pointed out that the country does not even have a legal definition of an immigrant.

Currently, the Ministry of Justice manages visa applications and foreign entry, while the Ministry of Employment and Labor monitors and regulates migrant workers who enter the country under the Employment Permit System (EPS), and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family runs policies related to marriage migrants and their families.

The former lawmaker viewed that the absence of a high-level government body in charge of drafting a framework is the main reason why the country is failing to implement coherent immigration policies.

Much of the policies are focused on inviting low-skilled workers for temporary stays, and encouraging international marriage without giving sufficient opportunities for marriage migrants to fully adapt to society, she said.

“Most importantly, for an inclusive society, support measures for migrants should be drawn up not out of sympathy toward them, but based on the idea that they are equal members of our society,” she said.

Lee stated that among the bills currently being discussed at the National Assembly, the legislation of the Anti-Discrimination Law will be a start in providing equal rights to all foreign residents and eradicating prejudice against them.

‘Foreign workers are backbone of Korea’s economy’

Shekh al Mamun, a senior member of a migrant workers’ union under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, said the government’s low level of awareness on equality during the COVID-19 pandemic has disappointed many foreign workers, who were discriminated against in the administration’s mask distribution plan as well as the disaster relief funding programs.

He stressed that the policies for migrant workers, who mainly work in factories and farms in rural areas, should be based on the recognition that they are an essential component of Korea’s economy, not a workforce performing the so-called “3D” (dirty, dangerous and difficult) jobs that Koreans shun.

“The first step in doing this would be guaranteeing workers the freedom to change workplaces by making changes to the EPS, which hasn’t been properly revised since it was introduced in 2004,” Shekh said.

Migrant workers under the EPS enter Korea with a contract that initially allows them to work for up to three years. The contract can be extended by one year and 10 months with the employer’s consent, and “diligent workers” are also allowed to re-enter the country after they return to their homeland.

However, as re-contracting and reentry permits are very dependent on employers, workers can get tied to them, leaving themselves open to those who exploit the system to their own advantage, according to the union.

“Thousands of workers a year suffer from unfair treatment such as delayed payments and horrendous accommodation. They are also prevented from applying for compensation for industrial accidents or demanding retirement pay out of fear that their contract will not be extended,” Shekh explained.

He hoped that this year, the government will finally respond to their years-long demands and improve the system.

“We are not asking for tons of additional money to fix the problem. What we need are genuine changes that will guarantee safe working environments and fundamental labor rights, which should be provided to everyone in the country.”

Fixing ‘bureaucratic’ approach

Wang Ji-yeon, head of Migrant Women Association in Korea, believes that many of the “bureaucratic policies” that the government comes up with are failing to provide actual help to multicultural families in need.

Wang, a marriage migrant from China who has been working as a migrants’ rights activist for 12 years, said that over the years, support for multicultural families has increased in quantity, but not in quality.

According to government data, there are over 200 support measures provided to marriage migrants and their families.

“The figures create a misperception among native Koreans that the government is spending too much on multiracial families, which is not true,” Wang said. She urged the government to disclose full data to the public on the operation of multicultural policies and regularly receive feedback from beneficiaries to eliminate unnecessary measures.

Moreover, while the current support mainly focuses on the family life of foreign-born wives, it should be expanded to their social and cultural activities as more and more women are seeking career development and preparing for a stable life in their later years.

Education on cultural diversity needed

Students from multicultural backgrounds face challenges due to discrimination and social prejudice. Lee Chan-yeong, a high school student born to a Filipina mother and Korean father, suggests that this can be improved through early education in and outside of schools.

“Many people are not used to cultural diversity, probably because they grew up and were educated in a technically homogeneous country,” said Lee, a second grader at Jeonbuk National University High School in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province.

While schools should ensure that mandatory educational programs on cultural diversity and anti-discrimination are given in the classroom, the government and media should improve their representations of biracial families, he suggested.

“Documentaries, news articles and movies on multicultural children tend to focus only on the dark side such as school bullying, economic hardship, poor fluency in Korean and so on. As the media has a big influence on teens, this negativity may create misperceptions,” he said.

Lee added that more positive content using public advertising and YouTube videos on cultural and ethnic diversity should be developed.

Source: Korea urged to fix immigration policies

Korea: Migrant women call for ‘Equal pay for equal work’

Of note:

Hundreds of female migrant workers employed at government-run facilities are suffering discrimination and unfair treatment, according to a recent survey by Hope Center with Migrant Workers, a civic group based in Seoul.

The survey results were revealed on Wednesday at a discussion session held by the Women Migrants Human Rights Center of Korea ahead of International Migrants Day which falls on Dec. 18.

About 80 percent of the 403 respondents working as interpreters, counselors and bilingual tutors stated that they have experienced discrimination such as unequal payment, limited promotion opportunities and unrecognized work experience.

“I’ve been working as an interpreter at a multicultural family support center for 13 years, during which I have never received holiday bonuses or extra pay for meal costs that are obviously provided to my Korean coworkers,” a marriage migrant was quoted as saying by the civic group. She requested anonymity.

“I don’t understand why I am paid less than my colleagues although we are given similar tasks. It’s hard to imagine that a state-run facility aimed at improving multicultural awareness openly discriminates employees by their nationality,” said another migrant woman with five years of work experience at the support center.

According to the data provided by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in October, bilingual tutors at public schools earn around 26.3 million won ($24,100) yearly, and interpreters working at multicultural support centers earn an average of 25.6 million won ― roughly 66 percent of the average annual salary of employees at the centers, which stood at 34.2 million won.

The civic group pointed out that the lack of details on wage guidelines has widened the payment gap.

The wage guidelines set by the ministry only state that interpreters and counselors should be paid “over the minimum wages,” whereas the specific manuals for Korean employees guarantee a yearly pay raise and chances for promotion based on their consecutive years of employment.

The survey also found that 91 percent of the migrant women experienced weak job security as their employment is based on temporary contracts of 10 months or one year. Also, 67 percent of the women have experienced workplace bullying such as verbal abuse and insults towards their home country.

“These issues, which have not been properly addressed for years, have turned into long-term systemic discrimination. Even the latest support measures from the gender ministry failed to reflect the realities in the workplace,” Wang Ji-yeon, head of the Migrant Women Association in Korea, told The Korea Times.

“What we need is improved job quality, not increased quantities of vacancies,” she said, regarding the ministry’s recent announcement to increase the number of interpreters in multicultural family support centers to 312 next year from the current 282.

She demanded an overhaul on the employment system; hiring qualified migrant women to full-time positions through proper recruitment procedures and providing education programs for their career development, as well as standardized wage guidelines.

“The current multicultural policies are mainly centered on family lives of migrant women, lacking support for their social activities. The government should recognize their capabilities and contributions to the country, and come up with better measures for them to be accepted as members of our society,” said Hwang Jeong-mi, a researcher at the Institute for Gender Research at Seoul National University.

Source: Migrant women call for ‘Equal pay for equal work’

Seoul vows to eradicate discrimination against multicultural families

Of note:

The government will establish a legal basis to ban hate speech related to race, country or culture, in a bid to eradicate discrimination against multicultural families, according to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, Friday.

“Multicultural families in Korea are experiencing a serious level of discrimination and isolation in daily life,” Vice Minister of Gender Equality and Family Kim Kyung-sun said at a briefing held at the Seoul Government Complex.

“We plan to establish legal grounds to eliminate discrimination and social prejudice formed through hateful expressions related to race, country or culture, by making a revision to the Multicultural Family Support Act.”

The same day, the ministry, in cooperation with related authorities such as the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, announced a set of measures to build an inclusive society for biracial families.

The comprehensive measures are aimed at improving acceptance by guaranteeing people with multicultural background equal access to social activities and welfare services without blind spots.

A monitoring group will soon be launched to watch for discriminative expressions in publications and educational materials issued by central and local governments.

In order to resolve the educational gap and ensure equal education opportunities for multicultural children, consultation sessions and information on career development will be provided through the multicultural information platform Danuri.

The ministry also plans to distribute additional Korean language education programs so that multicultural children do not suffer from communication difficulties during remote classes.

Cha Yoon-gyung, former president of the Korean Association for Multicultural Education, welcomed the expanded supportive measures to multicultural students, while expressing concerns that state policies lack plans on how to educate Koreans on multiculturalism.

“The policies should be more focused on ways to improve Korean citizens’ perspective and understanding on multiculturalism in order to eliminate cultural-based discrimination,” Cha told The Korea Times.

“Providing civil servants and students at school with only several hours of education on cultural diversity will not raise their multicultural awareness. The government should give stronger messages on zero-tolerance towards discrimination by legislating an anti-discrimination law.”

The measures also include prohibiting international marriage ads that violate human rights of marriage migrants, as migrant women’s rights groups have been pointing out that the contents, aimed mostly at Korean men looking for brides from Southeast Asian countries, were found to contain discriminatory and misogynic expressions.

Starting next year, international marriage brokers will be banned from including the face, height and weight of the brides in the ads, and will take mandatory education programs on gender awareness and human rights, following the revision to the Act on Marriage Brokerage Agencies.

The government will increase job opportunities for marriage migrants using their bilingual talents by expanding the number of interpreters at multicultural family support centers, and will constantly provide them with job openings in local companies.

The comprehensive measures come as, despite the increasing number of multicultural families in the country, social acceptance towards them stays relatively low, according to data from the ministry.

As of last year, the number of multicultural household members reached 1.06 million, which accounts for 2.1 percent of the total population, and the number of multicultural births marked 17,939, or 5.9 percent of the total births.

Source: Seoul vows to eradicate discrimination against multicultural families

Korea: Immigration not the only solution to demographic change

Interesting take, reflecting under-employment of women in Korea:

From an agrarian economy in the 1960s to now one of the strongest economic forces in Asia, Korea has evidently achieved tremendous economic growth, which not only comes with fiscal and welfare improvements but also demographic changes. The United Nations predicted that Korea’s population will peak in 2024 and decrease from then on and a 2000 UN Population Division report suggests immigration as a solution to this issue.

Yet, the rate at which Korea’s population is decreasing would require a mass immigration so large that it becomes an ineffective solution. Therefore, it has to be done at a smaller scale and coupled with other solutions that rely on Korea’s existing population.

The demographic change looming over this country ― and others ― is called demographic transition, which is the decrease in fertility and infant death rate due to improved welfare and technological development. It occurs in developed countries and results in a declining and aging population. The latter is the change in age structure to one with a greater proportion of older age groups, whereas the former is the change in the total overall population.

Immigration intended to offset the decline in the population size is called replacement migration, yet it can also address the declining working-age population. Based on the UN report, Korea has to aim for an annual net immigration of 800,000 between 2035 and 2050 to maintain the ratio of a working-age individual to retiree at 3.0. To bring in that number of people annually is close to impossible considering Korea’s past trends: 156,000 in 2018, and 32,000 in 2019.

To actualize our goal of sustainable economic growth, our solution itself should be sustainable. Therefore a more direct immigration policy is suggested. An example is Japan’s 2019 immigration policy that created two new visa status types for foreigners working in sectors experiencing labor shortages. With this solution, the country with the highest proportion of people over 65 years old was able to target specific industries that require manpower.

The proposed solution above greatly reduced the UN’s recommended annual net immigration, which means we have to look within the country and utilize existing human capital ― Korean women.

Despite having the highest tertiary education rates out of 36 OECD countries for women aged 25 to 34, Korea ranked 30th in women’s employment. An Ewha Law School professor suggests in a CNN interview that such contradicting statistics are proof that discriminatory hiring is still prevalent despite anti-discriminatory laws.

The Korean judicial system needs to address this issue with stricter consequences. The initiative to change should also come from organizations, and at all levels of management. Every individual is responsible to correct old prejudices and biases that promote sexism.

Yet, encouraging female employment means more than just hiring more women. It also means hiring them for leadership positions, and jobs that are historically perceived to be more appropriate for men ― referring to labor-intensive work.

Other potential solutions are empowering the elderly and extending the work-life of workers. It’s important to mention that this solution is not simply done by increasing the retirement age. Instead, it’s done by carrying out health-related initiatives and promoting lifelong learning.

Firstly, lifelong learning. Currently, Korea already has the Lifelong Education Act. Under this statute, the Korean government can plan programs purposed for cultivating human capital potential.

One way to do that is by providing opportunities for people to learn emerging skills, similar to what the Singapore University of Social Sciences is already doing. They’re offering credits for courses in emerging skills to their alumni. This is a potential solution because technological innovations also mean a workforce that needs to be trained in utilizing said technology. This resource should also be available to people of all ages and employment status.

Secondly, concerning health, investing in preventive countermeasures is impactful. Educating the public on ways to take care of their health will be cheaper compared to subsidizing healthcare costs due to ailments.

One supporting case is the company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) that strategically planned wellness programs for their employee’s social, mental, and physical health. Their efforts resulted in $250 million in healthcare savings. For every dollar J&J spent on wellness programs, they received a return of $2.71 between 2002 and 2008. Harvard Business Review even suggests that every dollar invested in health-risk prevention saves $6 in healthcare costs.

Korea’s working population has been decreasing due to population aging and decline. Replacement immigration has been suggested as a solution to this issue.

Yet the answer to whether or not Korea should embrace more immigration to ensure sustainable growth is not a simple yes or no. Replacement migration is one solution to this, but it shouldn’t be the only one. An issue as complex as this one needs more than just one big solution. Like a pride of lions hunting their prey, so should we address this issue, with several solutions.

Maria Natasha Lintang is a student at the State University of New York, Korea.

Source: Immigration not the only solution to demographic change

What Influences South Korean Perceptions on Immigration?

Interesting study:

South Korea has not been a major destination for immigration historically. Even today, most attention is focused on the 30,000+ arrivals from North Korea since 1998. Meanwhile, South Korea’s declining birth rate demonstrates a need for immigration, whether ethnically Korean or otherwise. Ethnic Koreans in the region often were provided visa privileges, yet struggled to integrate, while “mixed-blood”residents faced social and institutional discrimination. As non-Korean immigration slowly increased, tolerance for multiculturalism has lagged behind and has further been under analyzed, with discrimination and hostility toward immigrants still commonplace.

As a historically ethnically homogeneous state with less than 5 percent of the population immigrants, the assumption remained that the public preferred ethnic Korean immigration. Yet few studies directly identified whether there were preferences across ethnic Korean groups. For example in 2016 Shang E. Ha, Soo Jin Cho,  and Jeong-Han Kang found that the South Korean public preferred North Koreans over ethnic Koreans from China (Joseonjok). Ethnic Koreans across the former Soviet Union (Koryo-saram), who were forcibly relocated away from the Korean border area by Stalin and who started arriving back in South Korea in the 1990s, also face discrimination and alienation. Those Joseonjok who maintained their Korean language commonly were treated more fairly by South Koreans than Koryo-saram, mostly from Uzbekistan, who often not did maintain the language.

Likewise, largely disparate and anecdotal evidence suggests South Koreans are concerned about non-Korean immigration both from elsewhere in Asia and from the Middle East, in particular. While North Korean arrivals increased since the famine of the 1990s, with a noticeably sharp decline this year, as many as half of South Korea’s immigrants consist of Chinese citizens, mostly of whom are ethnically Chinese, but also include ethnic Koreans originally living near the North Korean border. South Korea also attracts many others, such as Southeast Asians who come in as both foreign brides to rural workers and economic migrants for what is known as 3-D jobs (dirty, dangerous, and difficult).

Many of the concerns about economic immigration in South Korea parallel public concerns seen in other developed states. However, South Korea has also recently become a destination for asylum seekers as well. Burmese arriving since the 1990s have been caught in shifting categorizations of migrants and refugees. In addition, the arrival of Yemeni asylum seekers appeared to ignite latent Islamophobia and fuel claims that arrivals were just economic migrantsand a threat to the safety of Korean women, with over 700,000 signing an e-petition to President Moon Jae-in opposing granting refugee status. African asylum seekers have found a similar hostility. Limited comparative research finds that majorities of South Koreans do not support accepting non-Korean and especially Muslim refugees, especially compared to accepting North Koreans. Meanwhile, limited evidence suggests that immigration from European and other Western countries does not elicit the same concerns, perhaps due to assumptions that such migration is short-term and often in areas of high demand (e.g. teaching English).

We wanted to directly test the extent to which the South Korean public differentiates among immigrant groups, and specifically to what extent various ethnic Korean immigrant groups in general or specific co-ethnic immigrants are preferred to non-ethnic Korean immigrants. In addition, we wanted to identify whether South Koreans may just be hesitant to support immigration of any kind.

To tackle these issues, we surveyed 1,200 South Koreans during September 9-18, via a web survey conducted by Macromill Embrain, using quota sampling by region and gender. We randomly assigned respondents to one of eight prompts to evaluate on a five-point scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree).

The prompts were:

“The South Korean government should encourage…

Version 1: “… ethnic Koreans abroad to move to South Korea”

Version 2: “…North Koreans to move to South Korea.”

Version 3: “…ethnic Koreans from China to move to South Korea.”

Version 4: “…ethnic Koreans from Central Asia and Russia to move to South Korea.”

Version 5. “…Europeans to move to South Korea.”

Version 6: “…Southeast Asians to move to South Korea.”

Version 7: “…Africans to move to South Korea.”

Version 8: “…Middle Easterners to move to South Korea.”

Starting with ethnic Koreans, we find the undifferentiated prompt (Version 1) elicits more opposition (42.28 percent) than support (19.46 percent). This suggests perhaps an acknowledgement of the limits to what South Korea can absorb, even if ethnic identity remains strong. Among the three differentiated ethnic Korean groups, less than 30 percent agree than South Korean should encourage immigration.

The group South Koreans are least likely to want to encourage to move to South Korea are ethnic Koreans from China (59.59 percent), followed by North Koreans (50.32 percent). One possible explanation for this could be that North Koreans receive government assistance after defecting to South Korea, and therefore are commonly viewed as an economic burden on the country. Ethnic Koreans from China likely are viewed as economic migrants than refugees. Moreover, the disapproval of Korean-Chinese immigration may be caused in part by the outbreak of COVID-19, which has caused a rise in Sinophobia across the globe.

Interestingly, the figure above shows that South Koreans are most likely to agree with encouraging ethnic Koreans from Central Asia or Russia out of all the ethnic Koreans mentioned. This is especially fascinating when considering the wide difference of treatment between Koreans from Central Asia and North Koreans, as the latter are automatically granted citizenship. The data perhaps suggests that South Koreans are more sympathetic to the forced migration of ethnic Koreans under Stalin and the particular hardships they face in establishing citizenship in South Korea. However, even here, only 24.16 percent of respondents agreed that ethnic Koreans from Central Asia and Russia should be encouraged to immigrate.

South Koreans were even less likely to agree with encouraging non-ethnic Koreans to move to South Korea. In particular, 62.92 percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed with encouraging Africans to move to South Korea, with majorities not supportive of encouraging Middle Eastern (54.6 percent) or Southeast Asia migration (56.38 percent) either.

In contrast, Europeans seem to be an outlier for views on non-ethnic Koreans with only 30.46 percent of South Koreans disagreeing with encouraging their immigration. Of all groups, European immigration was the only group in which a majority of respondents (52.98 percent) stated they neither disagreed nor agreed with encouraging immigration. Notably, more people supported encouraging Europeans to immigrate to South Korea than similar encouragement for ethnic Koreans from China or North Koreans. This not only suggests the limits of shared ethnic identity, but suggests perceptions of an economic burden of these co-ethnic groups, compared to immigration from more economically affluent European countries.

Comparing both figures, we can see that South Koreans overall are more welcoming toward ethnic Koreans, but not by wide margins, with most respondents hesitant to encourage immigration of any group. This suggests factors beyond ethnic identity, perhaps economic burden, playing a crucial role.

Previous studies find that perceptions differ across demographic groups, with younger South Koreans more accepting of immigrants regardless of their ethnicity and men being marginally more supportive than women. We ran separate statistical models for support of each immigration version for basic demographic factors (gender, age, education, household income) as well as political ideology and pride in being Korean. We find age positively corresponds with greater support only in Versions 1, 3, and 4, but in none of the non-ethic Korean models. Surprisingly, the ethnic pride variable was only statistically significant in Version 1. In other words, respondents proud to be Korean were more supportive of encouraging ethnic Korean immigration, but this did not translate to greater support for specific ethnic Korean groups.

These results have clear ramifications in the lives of South Koreans and South Korean immigrants. First, despite sharing an ethnicity and often cultural practices, South Koreans are hesitant to accept the notion that co-ethnics should all live in one state. Part of this may be due to the economic burden of ethnic Korean immigration from the region, but may also indirectly suggest that the public’s view of a shared identity is weaker than outside observers may have assumed. Secondly, the findings suggest not only concern about immigration from poorer areas and perhaps the potential for more asylum seekers arriving in South Korea, but immigration as a whole.

Taken as a whole, the public’s hesitancy to support immigration may partially explain the limited attempts by the government to promote less restrictive immigration laws or programs that aid those already in country. That South Koreans rarely interact with immigrant communities likely exacerbate this problem. Without efforts to encourage such contact, South Korea may continue to struggle to encourage the integration of immigrants into society.

Source: What Influences South Korean Perceptions on Immigration?

As Korean content goes global, cultural sensitivity becomes key issue

Of interest:

When students from Uijeongbu High School parodied Ghana’s famous dancing pallbearers, South Korea-based Ghanaian television personality Sam Okyere took to social media to criticize the students for painting their faces brown.

A few days later, Okyere apologized after people said it was inappropriate to post a photo of the students without permission. They also took exception to his use of the hashtag “#teakpop,” which is typically used in a derogatory way about K-pop.

Many Koreans criticized Okyere online, calling him overly sensitive and inconsiderate. However, Korean songs, dramas and TV programs have also faced allegations of racism this summer.

When K-pop group Mamamoo member Hwasa appeared in an online livestream of a spinoff of MBC’s “I Live Alone” on July 15, some global fans said the clothes the singer wore were racially offensive and that she was making fun of traditional Nigerian clothing.

“We received unfriendly messages concerning Hwasa’s clothes,” posted “I Live Alone” on its YouTube page July 25 after the controversy raged on the internet. “We want to clarify that the clothes, which Hwasa often wears, were inspired by (what is worn in a) Korean sauna.’ We had no intention of comically showing traditional clothing of certain countries.”
Last month, singer Zo Bin of Norazo apologized for his 2011 song “Curry” after K-pop group Seventeen sang the song on V Live on July 13. Seventeen fans, mostly from abroad, criticized the song for its lyrics associating love of curry with yoga, the Taj Mahal and not eating beef. They accused the band of stereotyping Indians and Indian culture.

“I just wanted to sing in a joyful way that curry is tasty in any way to everyone. I did not make the song with the intention to offend someone or diminish the culture and tradition of a country,” said Zo Bin on Instagram. “I apologize to all South Asians and people in India hurt by this.”

Korean dramas also couldn’t avoid allegations of racial discrimination.
Actor Ji Chang-wook of SBS’ “Backstreet Rookie” became mired in controversy when he uploaded a video on social media with another actor, SIC, wearing dreadlocks and performing a comical dance. Some international viewers accused the two actors of appropriating black culture and said their movements were racially offensive.

“Acceptance of multiculturalism and cultural sensitivity levels of many Koreans are very low,” said Yoon In-jin, a sociology professor at Korea University.

“We have lived as monoethnic people and in monoethnic culture for a long time, so we lack in understanding and respecting other cultures,” Yoon said. “We are insensitive as to how our actions can be seen by others. On the other hand, we react angrily if foreigners belittle Korean culture or people.”

In order to prevent racial discrimination controversies, many entertainment agencies educate their artists on racial and gender discrimination, and artists are banned from giving personal opinions on political, social and historical matters.

Furthermore, major K-pop idol agencies have manuals containing cultural taboos and politically sensitive topics in specific countries for artists to review when they go on world tours.

Some people defended Okyere, saying the criticism against him was two-faced. The hashtag “#I_Stand_with_Sam_Okyere” started trending Friday after Okyere apologized, and many international viewers expressed their disappointment with the attacks against him.

“Hallyu will eventually fall off if Koreans do not educate themselves on other cultures,” said one tweet.

“Through education and trial and error, we need to learn from these controversies and learn to think from the other person’s shoes,” said Yoon.

Source: As Korean content goes global, cultural sensitivity becomes key issue

Korea: race, racism, and the ‘other’

Interesting take and important reminder of the historical and political background that underlies approaches to identity and civic integration. Readers more familiar with Korea may wish to comment:

Korea’s approach to multiculturalism is a paradox. The same multicultural policies and programs that have been enacted and encouraged by various administrations over the years have simultaneously reinforced racial and ethnic views vis-à-vis nationality and citizenship.

Multiculturalism often appears more akin to cultural assimilation. It means foreigners learning to eat kimchi, speaking Korean, wearing a hanbok, and going on television programs and acting surprised at things. Or, if you are like the vast majority of foreign nationals trying to acclimatize, it means learning how to be a good Korean wife and all the underlying Confucian conditions and requisites that come with it.

Despite what any government programs or officials might say, this not a melting pot – it’s a mold. If you fit, you can succeed…to a certain extent.

Here, Korean culture, race, ethnicity, citizenship, and nationality are virtually inseparable.

For example, it’s possible to be a white girl with blue eyes, have a Korean passport, live your life here and speak the language impeccably but never be thought of as “Korean”. Conversely, someone could be born and raised in the States, never visit the peninsula, not speak the language, but still be seen as “Korean”.

To understand how this works, you probably need to understand the concept of “minjok”.

“Min” represents people and “jok” represents family. Despite both these Chinese characters being in recorded use in the classical age, the term “minjok” was a modern construction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, adopted by thinkers such as Shin Chae-ho in the country’s fight against imperialism.

Western (and later Japanese) imperial powers had begun planting their flags in Asia, seeking trade ports, military posts, and favorable conditions for further expansion, and thus a great competition arose for the most desirable locations. The Korean Peninsula found itself trapped in this game centered on the nation-state despite its pleas for isolation and the continuation of its own autonomous way of life.

For the creation of the nation-state as a political entity in Northeast Asia, as well as the generation of a national consciousness, 19th century political Korean activists sought to foster internal homogeneity and external autonomy. The concept of “minjok” provided such social cohesion: a category inclusive of every Korean without regard to age, gender, or status distinctions.

It was constructed by a collection of public intellectuals such as Shin Chaeho, Ahn Changho, and Park Eunsik. They were associated with the New People’s Association (shin-min-hoe) established in 1906 and focused on the independent strengthening of national power and promoting a more unified nationalist consciousness which did not just focus on a monarch or ruling elite class, such as the yangban.

Historical subjectivity was required. The story of the country could and should no longer be told by simply saying, “This king lived. Then he died. Then this king came along. Then he was murdered. Then there was the next king.”

A country’s history is more than the life, times, inbreeding, and corruption of a series of monarchs. It contains an entire population. Millions of lives, dreams, hopes, fears, stories, tales, music, arts, and more.

The minjok helped provide subjectivity to the people – it took the tale of Korea away from the kings and gave it to the people. A similar thing would happen here in the 1970s with the “minjung” movment.

Thus, the Korean people (all 76-odd million of them) see themselves as a family: Joined together not by law but rather by blood. This idiosyncratic ethno-nationalism means that, for some, the two Koreas can never be truly separated by politics or geography

It’s what still unites the North and South Koreans. Particularly in their disliking of the Japanese. “Minjok” was said to be one of the most frequently used words by President Moon in his meetings with Chairman Kim Jong-un.

Why is this important? Because it seems that it was attitudes of minjok that drove the new visa regulations brought in by the Ministry of Justice. Any non-Korean now has to get a permit to “leave” the country and then also receive a health-check abroad before returning. Failing to do either means you’re not allowed back in the country.

However, if you have a certain visa, which shows your mixed Korean heritage, you are exempt from these. Diplomats and other special cases are also able to avoid the bureaucratic procedures.

It’s interesting because there have long been different classifications of foreigners here. The E-2 native speaking English teachers are very much the minority in terms of numbers but often the loudest and most visible in media. There are other communities who have far more often faced the rough end of the stick in terms of laws and regulations, often silently or without their voice not heard as loudly.

Now, at least, there has been some element of egalitarianism in the treatment of foreigners. The new visa regulations say there are Koreans and there are non-Koreans. There are no distinctions made between those from a “western” country or those from elsewhere in the world.

And it’s worth remembering that the laws have been enacted to help control the spread of Covid-19. Like any bureaucratic government policy, whether they succeed or not is a matter of much debate.

However, many of the Koreans that I have spoken to (from the conservatives to the woke), support these new rules. Unflinchingly. Of course, this virus does not only affect certain races – we’ve seen Coupang incidents, churches, nightclubs, trips to Jeju and more – but the country will do its best to protect the people that live and work here.

For the most part, it’s doing a very good job.

Having been here for 15 years, I remember when we used to have to get re-entry visas before leaving. It’s not a new thing but a return of a previous policy. I’ve also done innumerable health checks, drug checks, AIDS tests, criminal checks, and everything else over the years. I’m far from a saint but I followed the law each time because I was happy living and working in Korea.

After all, if we are going to respect other cultures, a diversity of beliefs and ideologies, and tolerate things beyond our own personal value system, we have to allow sovereign countries to make their own decisions as best they see fit.

Korea has its own ontological and epistemological journey. Its laws and culture have been created according to specific spatial and temporal circumstances.

Yes, there is an element of “minjok” here and that might not sound appropriate to those from different parts of the world. But it’s worth remembering why the concept of minjok arose. As well as understanding why you or I also hold certain values. We are historical and sociological subjects – often speaking and reciting the concepts and words of the societies in which we grew up. The words of our dead ancestors.

This ain’t Rome, perhaps evidenced by the fact that modern South Korea sometimes feels like it actually was built in a day and that the pizza often has corn on, but one is nevertheless expected to do as they do here.

And while America is in flames and British elites seemingly flaunt government rules, I’ll continue to do my best to try and understand and accept the Korean journey – even if it means I don’t always approve of it.

Source: Korea: race, racism, and the ‘other’

Bill proposed to give high-educated foreigners Korean citizenship

Very selective proposed citizenship policy, but still signifying change:

Foreigners acquiring a bachelor’s or higher degree in South Korea may soon find it easier to become naturalized here, as a group of lawmakers have proposed easing the nationality law to help overcome the nation’s population reduction.

Rep. Kim Kyung-jin of the minor opposition Party for Democracy and Peace said Monday that he and nine other lawmakers have jointly tabled a motion to revise the Nationality Act to the National Assembly, seeking to ease the rules on simplified naturalization.

The proposed revision calls for allowing foreigners earning a bachelor’s degree or higher in South Korea to be naturalized as a Korean citizen. It also obliges the government to flexibly devise and implement its nationality policies depending on special and economic circumstances.

“The government has spent several hundreds of trillions of won over the past decade to overcome the population crisis caused by the severe low birthrate but failed to attain any visible outcomes,” Kim said.

“Our country should also implement a policy of naturalization that actively accepts foreign talent.”

The lawmaker said the proposed legal revision was based on the opinions of government officials and experts gathered from a forum in February.

According to Statistics Korea, the nation’s population is expected to peak at 51.94 million in 2028 before gradually decreasing to 39.29 million in 2067, a level seen in the 1980s.

The number of foreigners living in South Korea was 2.18 million as of the end of 2017, up 6.4 percent from 2016, government data showed. The number of foreign students here also rose 16.5 percent to 135,000 in the same period.

Kim said the current naturalization policy is focused on multicultural families based on international marriages and lacks consideration of foreign students and talent.

“If talented foreigners will be able to become naturalized in South Korea more easily through the proposed legal revision, it will be helpful in resolving social and labor problems caused by the population reduction,” Kim said.

“As the population problem is a serious matter directly linked to the national fate, we will continue to make efforts to improve the nationality system in the future.” (Yonhap)

Source: Bill proposed to give high-educated foreigners Korean citizenship

[Multicultural Korea] Military changing to embrace diversity

Interesting (Canada still has challenges with respect to women and visible minority representation in the Canadian Forces):

In a country where the phrase “homogenous nation” was once chanted with pride not long ago, there was nothing strange about a provision within the military law that exempted men of mixed heritage from military service if they were “clearly biracial” in appearance, despite being South Korean nationals.

But the presence in Korea of more foreigners and more international couples is slowly leading the country to a change of attitude. Within the past decade, the military law was amended requiring all men of Korean nationality to serve in the military, regardless of race or ethnicity. (Naturalized South Koreans and North Korean defectors can also enlist, but they are not subject to conscription and can still opt out.) The fact that the number of soldiers had decreased due to low birth rates and the aging population also played a part.

The Ministry of National Defense has proposed measures to encourage the rigid military culture to adapt to the increasingly diverse population, but concerns remain over its capacity to do so.

All able-bodied men of Korean nationality between the ages of 18 and 38 are obligated to serve in the military for about two years. An amendment to the law in 2010 also imposed mandatory military service on Korean men from multicultural households.

When the amended act came into force in 2011, the military enlisted 100 multicultural soldiers in the first year, according to the Defense Ministry. While annual counts of soldiers from multicultural households are not available for privacy reasons, the Defense Ministry estimates that more than 8,500 will enlist annually from 2025 to 2031.

In a step toward embracing diversity within the military, one of the first moves the Defense Ministry took in 2011 was to replace the term “minjok,” or ethnic group, with “gungmin,” or citizen, in the oaths that soldiers take when they enlist or become commissioned officers.

In 2016 the ministry also introduced the Framework Act on Military Status and Service to protect the rights of individual soldiers and prevent discrimination among them. Article 37 of the act states that soldiers have to respect “multicultural values” and that the Defense Minister needs to educate soldiers so that they understand and respect multiculturalism.

The ministry said it is careful not to overemphasize differences between the multicultural soldiers and their peers.

“While life in the barracks is basically a corporate life, the commissioned officers and commanders in the military units will consider the different needs of the soldiers,” an official from the Defense Ministry said.

“We have not been informed of soldiers having difficulties with the diet, or religion.”

In a further step, the five-year immigration reform plan announced in 2018 included a proposal to review compulsory military service for naturalized Koreans.

While the discussion arose in the context of fairness, it also encompassed concerns about security, with some arguing that there would be “Chinese troops,” considering that many naturalized Koreans come from China.

While the inclusion of soldiers from diverse cultural backgrounds represents great progress, said Seol Dong-hoon, a sociology professor at Chonbuk National University, it may be premature to discuss conscription for naturalized Koreans.

“While soldiers from multicultural households are born as Koreans and are naturally imposed with the mandatory military service, the situation is different for naturalized Koreans. Besides, it may not be best to make their duty mandatory, because many of them become naturalized Koreans to pursue their professional careers here — like athletes.”

A year has passed since the proposal was announced, but not much has been discussed. The Defense Ministry said it is reviewing the matter and will comprehensively consider what is fair and what influence such a step might have on society.

More efforts are being made, but society’s fundamental perspective needs to change, Navy Lt. Rhee Keun said. Lt. Rhee, who gave up his US citizenship and came to Korea to enlist as a commissioned officer here, said he had endured numerous discriminatory remarks in his eight years of service.

“When I first joined the Navy here, I had regrets. The senior soldiers would often call me ‘Yankee’ and tell me to go back to my country,” he said. Rhee graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in the United States in 2007.

“They bully you when you come from another country. I did not speak Korean well, did not know much about the Korean culture and I was clumsy at first. So it was very stressful,” he said, adding that the closed military culture revolving around regionalism and school ties should be rejected.

A survey of 131 early-career commissioned officers, undertaken for a doctoral dissertation published last year, hinted that contradictory sentiments about soldiers with multicultural backgrounds have not disappeared.

When asked about the pros and cons of having soldiers from different cultural backgrounds, the officers said their presence could lead to more creative thinking and flexibility in the currently rigid, conservative military and could also reduce discrimination against multicultural families, according to “Officers’ Awareness of Multiculturalism in the Military and Implications for Policy Direction” by Youngsan University researcher Lee Yun-soo.

But they also projected doubts about whether soldiers from different backgrounds could have the same loyalty and devotion to the country, with some saying it would be hard to trust those soldiers in the event of war. Respondents raised concerns that there might be a greater risk of military secrets being leaked, or of Korea making “internal enemies.”

They also said cultural and language barriers could cause trouble inside the military.

“Korea is a country that has a relatively ‘high border’ inside the minds (of our people),” Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said in announcing the five-year immigration reform plan in February 2018.

Still, Lt. Rhee said, it is important that that more people like him, people from different cultural backgrounds, join the military so that social attitudes can change.

“With more exposure, the sentiments will naturally change. I also believe it is important for everyone to contribute to the society they are in, in any way,” he said.

When it made headlines here that former lawmaker Jasmine Lee, a naturalized citizen from the Philippines, had sent her son to the military in 2016, Lee stressed that equal treatment of multicultural families was important to reduce discrimination.

“While the caring treatment (of multicultural children, by extending military exemptions) is appreciated, making such distinctions could also create a sense of alienation and trigger controversies,” Lee said in a media interview around that time.

For Jung Yeom, a naturalized Korean from China, it is important for her children to fulfill their social duty, even if it is worrying for her as a mother.

“I do worry, but I believe it is always difficult in the beginning, for everything. The country operates (its military system) as it should, and those who do not like it will have to leave,” Jung told The Korea Herald. Jung came to Korea in 1997 to marry her Korean husband and has two sons.

Source: [Multicultural Korea] Military changing to embrace diversity

Public diplomacy critical for multicultural Korea

Grappling with immigration and integration:

The latest hazing death of a biracial teenager in Incheon and anti-immigration protests against asylum seekers from Yemen show the challenges Korea faces as it becomes a multicultural society.

To tackle such challenges, the Korea Foundation (KF), a nonprofit organization that has been promoting public diplomacy under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is stepping up efforts to help people develop a global mindset, according to KF President Lee Si-hyung.

He deemed two projects — a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with district offices in Busan and the first “Public Diplomacy Week” — were especially helpful to achieve the goal.

The MOU was signed by ASEAN Culture House, an institution in Busan aimed at nurturing cultures of 10 ASEAN countries, and each district office in Busan to enhance cooperation for supporting multicultural families, many from Southeast Asia.

The first Public Diplomacy Week from Nov. 1 to 3 at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul was to assess Korea’s public diplomacy and how it can be developed to help Koreans and foreigners understand each other better.

“Protests against the asylum seekers from Yemen are only beginning of the problems already faced by the European countries,” Lee told The Korea Times. “And having a global mindset should be the starting point to tackle the issues.”

He suggested a two-step approach — raising public awareness toward diversity in the short term and getting ready to accept refugees in the long term.

“In that regard, the ASEAN Culture House’s project is right on target for our goal in the short term,” he said. “And although not intended, Public Diplomacy Week is believed to help Koreans understand the people from outside.”

Established in 1991, the KF aims to promote understanding of Korea and strengthen partnerships with institutions and opinion leaders around the world.

It has been responsible for public diplomacy-related projects in accordance with a public diplomacy act enacted in August 2017.

The first Public Diplomacy Week featured presentations by embassies in Seoul on their respective public diplomacy programs, a conference on the role of social media in public diplomacy and an introduction to jobs in the public diplomacy sector.

The KF plans to host Public Diplomacy Week every year.

ASEAN Culture House opened in September 2017, in line with the government’s plan to relocate government bodies and public organizations outside Seoul for balanced societal development.

The KF moved its headquarters to Seogwipo, Jeju Island, in July, while leaving its global affairs bureau in Seoul.

It enables the foundation to operate in three cities in Korea, along with seven offices abroad.

“I believe our presence in Busan and Jeju Island can help their campaign to go global,” Lee said, referring to Jeju’s campaign for international investment and conferences.

He pointed out that Busan and outer South Gyeongsang Province were home for many multicultural families.

The foundation’s overseas projects include Korea Chair and Korea Center to enhance collaboration with scholars, researchers, politicians and journalists on security policies.

Korea Chairs have been established at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, led by scholar and policy wonk Victor Cha; the Brookings Institution, led by academic Jung Pak; and Free University of Brussels, headed by Ramon Pacheco Pardo. A Korea Chair at Rand Corp. is being expanded. All the institutions except the Free University of Brussels (Belgium) are in the United States.

Korea Centers have been set up at the Woodrow Wilson Center (U.S.) and the Institute for Security and Development Policy (Sweden).

Source: [INTERVIEW] Public diplomacy critical for multicultural Korea