South Korea

MPG-led MIPEX assessment of South Korea
The Migration Policy Group has led a MIPEX assessment of South Korea. This page contains the same information as for all other MIPEX countries. The data is available for 2010 only and was collected on 1 January 2012 but also reflects the situation as of 31 May 2010, therefore the data is directly comparable with the 31 MIPEX III countries. The 31 MIPEX III country profiles do not include the Korean results, nor do the overall policy findings as these were published in March 2011. However the Korean data is available in the MIPEX data tool.




Over the past two decades, South Korea has evolved from a country of a net emigration to net immigration in the Asia-Pacific region, especially for labor migration. Today, the largest group of immigrants in South Korea consists of ethnic Koreans with Chinese nationality (69%), followed by citizens of the United States (10%) and Vietnam (8%).  Most of the ethnic Koreans from China enter the country for temporary low-skilled work through the Working Visit System. 21.9 percent of immigrants in South Korea make use of the Employment Permit System. This group consists mainly of people from Southeast Asia.  Besides these two large groups, foreign family members of Korean citizens have started to arrive since the late 1990s and now represent the third largest group of immigrants (12.8 percent). 


South Korea has ratified the major UN conventions on human rights, such as the Conventions on Eco-nomic, Social and Cultural Rights, on Civil and Political Rights and Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. However, the country is not a signatory to most of the main international agreements related to migrant workers and their families, including the two ILO Conventions on migrant workers and the UN Migrant’s Rights Convention.


With an overall MIPEX score of 60/100, South Korea’s current integration policies are just ‘slightly favourable’ for promoting immigrant integration. Compared to most other emerging countries of immigration, South Korea has very quickly improved its legal framework on integration, in a similar way as Portugal, Spain, or Finland. Its policies on family reunion, long-term residence, and access to nationality are average compared to most European countries, but slightly more burdensome than in traditional countries of immigration. The major areas of strength are its targeted policies on labour market support, immigrant pupils’ education access and needs, voting rights and support for immigrant associations. However, these policies are relatively new and need to be fully evaluated as to their implementation and effectiveness. Moreover, significant policy weaknesses emerge across all seven MIPEX areas, such as autonomous permits for reunited family members, the implementation of intercultural education, the political liberties of foreigners, the exclusion of certain permit-holders from family reunion and long-term residence, various restrictions on access to nationality, and weak definitions and enforcement mechanisms on discrimination. 

Score Changes

Areas of Integration

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    South Korea sets generally favourable conditions for foreigners to find jobs that match their skills and qualifications. As in the majority of MIPEX countries, legally resident foreigners in South Korea have the right to employment or self-employment in any sector, including the public sector. All legal immigrant workers are guaranteed equal workers’ rights, as in a number of leading countries (e.g. Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, and Sweden). Foreigners benefit from recently developed targeted support, much more favourable than neighbouring Japan, the average EU country, and even some traditional countries of immigration, such as Australia or United States of America. Foreign workers in South Korea have the right to Employment Training for Foreign Workers, consisting of introduction to Korean culture, legal rights and obligations. Their family members benefit from Support Centers for Multicultural Families and Open 'Dasom schools' for vocational and job training for youths of multicultural background. But, unlike in several leading European and other countries of work migration, temporary residents in South Korea do not enjoy equal right to change jobs and sectors.

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    Integration abroad?

    According to MIPEX, any future introduction of a Korean language pre-entry requirement would be more of an obstacle than a facilitator of integration for multicultural families. For this proposed requirement to be favourable for integration, all applicant spouses would need to be entitled to free and professional Korean courses and tests in South Korea and abroad. Moreover, all spouses who cannot access these courses and tests should benefit from legal exemptions (see practice only in France).  Also a higher income requirement for family reunion would mean that reuniting families would no longer benefit from slightly favourable acquisition conditions for integration. According to MIPEX, sponsors should be able to use any legal source to prove that they have a basic income - either around the level of the country’s social assistance or minimum wage.


    Multicultural families in South Korea benefit from a slightly favourable legal framework for integration, around the European average and slightly better than Japan’s. The eligibility and legal conditions for family reunion are similar to Japan and the average MIPEX country; sponsors must meet a basic economic resource requirement to reunite with the nuclear family and additional requirements to reunite with their dependent adult children and parents. However, only certain categories of sponsors are entitled to family reunion and long-term relationships and partnerships are not recognised. Industrial training visa holders in South Korea cannot apply for family reunion, which is similar to Japan and more restrictive than other MIPEX countries attracting labour migration. Reunited families are slightly secure in their status because the State maintains fewer discretionary grounds to refuse or withdraw a permit than in Japan or many European countries. However, the rights of these families are only halfway favourable for their integration. Although they can benefit from Support Centers for Multicultural Families, they cannot immediately apply for jobs in the same ways as their sponsor or easily obtain an autonomous permit, unlike in most MIPEX countries (instead see countries like Norway, Sweden and Portugal).  

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    New opportunities and intercultural education for all

    The education of immigrant pupils is an area of weakness in most MIPEX countries, with better practices emerging in the traditional countries of immigration and the Nordic countries. Sweden provides all newcomer pupils with interpreters welcoming newcomer families, ‘equal respect and tolerance’ curricula, and mother tongue tuition. Pupils and parents can benefit from multicultural pre-schools, teacher diversity campaigns and National Board of Education projects e.g. ‘Better results and decreased differences’. In Australia all students learn to appreciate cultural diversity because Civics and Citizenship is supported across the curriculum, assessed, and compared across states. Multicultural education in Norway is strengthened in curricula, a national body (NAFO) and objectives for more trained and diverse teachers. 



    South Korea’s education support for immigrant pupils is halfway favourable for societal integration. Still, this support is far more developed than in most other new countries of immigration. All children from multicultural families can access education in South Korea, although undocumented immigrants can have difficulties to access vocational training. Immigrant children can benefit from general education support at every stage of their educational career. They also receive extra support before entering elementary school, Korean language courses, and counseling materials throughout their education. However South Korean schools have not taken advantage of all the opportunities that immigrant pupils bring and have a weak intercultural education approach (see box). 

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    Participation of foreigners in political decision-making

    Ireland and the Nordic countries generally provide equal opportunities in law for all residents to participate in politics. All can vote in local/regional elections and can form or join associations, media and political parties. Moreover, immigrants in Sweden and Ireland can stand as candidates in elections. In the Nordic countries authorities generally consult with civil society when they change policies and support official immigrant consultative bodies. For instance, in Norway immigrants are nominated regionally to become members of National Contact Committee for Immigrants and the Authorities (KIM). Since 1984, KIM has been required by law to propose its own issues and act on requests for consultation. KIM facilitates dialogue and provides advice on matters affecting immigrants not only to government, but also to researchers, parties and other stakeholders ( 



    Unlike most new countries of immigration, immigrants in South Korea benefit from slightly favourable policies to participate in political decision-making. As in the majority of established countries of immigration, immigrants in South Korea can get support to create associations and can vote in local and regional elections. But they cannot stand as candidates in elections (see instead Nordic countries and Ireland). Moreover, foreigners are denied key political liberties, which is far below the standards in most MIPEX countries. They cannot be members of political parties and do not have equal right to run media organisations, as in only a few small and very recent destination countries in Central Europe. Immigrants in South Korea can benefit from Foreigners' Policy Committees with favourable powers at local, regional and national level. Their structure in South Korea, however, is slightly unfavourable for promoting foreigners’ political participation because these bodies are not led and freely elected by foreigners or their associations (see instead bodies in the Nordic countries). 

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    An entitlement to long-term residence

    The standard residence requirement for long-term residence in the EU is 5 years or less (Denmark, Norway, Sweden). Traditional immigration countries like Canada or Australia give permanent perspective for integration to a wide range of immigrants under various conditions. Selected immigrant workers arrive with permanent residence as the starting point of the integration process, while other immigrants are entitled to transition to it within a few years. Permanent resident’s status in Australia is secure, renewable, flexible, and protected for many long-settled residents and minors. 


    Most categories of immigrants in South Korea have a slightly favourable access to permanent residence, similar to Japan or the average MIPEX country. South Korea (and Japan) still excludes more categories of foreigners than most MIPEX countries (e.g. industrial training visa holders in South Korea). Eligible categories of immigrants can apply for a permanent permit after five years’ residence, as in most European countries, but under more vague provisions on interruptions in residence. In most MIPEX countries, anyone can become permanent resident even with residence interruptions of six months. The conditions for permanent residence in South Korea would become slightly favourable for integration if the income requirement and fees were lower.  Once accepted, South Korean permanent residents enjoy indefinite residence rights and equal social and economic rights (as in most MIPEX countries). However, they have very weak protections against expulsions, a problem in most countries (see stronger legal protections in Australia and several Western European countries). 

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    Accepting dual nationality and birthright citizenship

    Over the past decade, a long list of MIPEX countries (e.g. Germany, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Greece) liberalised nationality law as they recognised themselves as countries of immigration. Dual nationality is becoming a global trend in both countries of immigration and emigration. Countries are also finding their own way to somehow entitle children born in the country to Korean nationality at or after birth. These reforms’ stated aims are often to prevent long-term democratic and social exclusion and to guarantee equality and recognition among the new generation.


    Immigrants’ access to Korean nationality is only halfway favourable for integration, as in the average European country. Ordinary applicants can apply after 5 consecutive years and spouses of Korean nationals are eligible after 2 consecutive years or 3 years of marriage with at least 1 year of residence. Immigrants’ children and even grandchildren born in South Korea are still not considered Korean nationals at or around their birth (ius soli), which is the trend in the majority of MIPEX countries. Applicants for Korean nationality must prove that they have a sufficient income, a requirement that has by now been abolished in half the MIPEX countries. Applicants receive free support to pass the ‘naturalisation eligibility’ test. However, the test is not free and independent of government. Most applicants are also forced to give up their original nationality, since only limited groups of people can benefit from dual nationality. Naturalised citizens are slightly insecure in their status because it can be withdrawn for proven fraud and threat to public policy/national security after many years, even if the withdrawal would make them stateless. Most MIPEX countries, including Japan, limit the grounds for withdrawal of nationality from naturalised citizens and grant them greater legal protection from statelessness.

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    Improving the anti-discrimination framework 

    In 1979, South Korea ratified the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. However, South Korea’s anti-discrimination framework is only halfway favourable for protecting victims from discrimination. Most European countries made their greatest gains on integration through anti-discrimination, often because of agreed EU standards. Public and private actors cannot discriminate or incite violence or hatred against a person on the grounds of race, ethnicity or religion in all areas of life: employment, vocational training, education, social protection, social assistance, and access to goods and services like housing and health. Victims seeking justice benefit from full protections against victimisation, sharing the burden of proof, financial aid and interpreters. Independent specialised bodies provide legal advice and independent investigations.


    Similar to the majority of MIPEX countries, potential victims of discrimination benefit from law favourably prohibiting discrimination in all areas of life on the grounds of race, ethnicity, religion and nationality. However, residents in South Korea enjoy slightly less discrimination protection than residents in most MIPEX countries. Unlike Japan, many explicit legal protections of definitions, concepts, and enforcement mechanisms are more developed in Korean law. Potential victims of discrimination also face many more obstacles to access justice in South Korea than in most MIPEX countries. They do not have an explicit right to file a discrimination claim in judicial and criminal matters and can only benefit from compromise and conciliation procedures under the National Human Rights Commission. Victims can seek legal advice from the Commission, and also benefit from investigation of the facts of their cases. However, the Commission has weaker powers than many equality bodies in Europe and traditional countries of immigration. Residents also cannot benefit from shift in the burden of proof, protection against victimisation, or class actions. The State initiates public dialogue on discrimination and works on the issue but could do more to promote equality duties and compliance monitoring (see instead Canada, Norway, Sweden, UK, and US).