A Message from Korea Immigration Services (Updated)

Following up an earlier post on multiculturalism in Korea, the Commissioner of Korea Immigration Services wrote an editorial for The Korea Times the other day saying that Korea is ‘Eager to Embrace Foreigners’ (via The Marmot).

To be quite honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about the article – parts of it seem warm and astute, while certain paragraphs seem blunt and abrasive…particularly these:

Willing to work for less than their Korean counterparts, immigrant workers will help lower labor cost, thereby restoring the price competitiveness of Korean firms’ products. Immigration can thus lead to a win-win outcome for Koreans and foreigners […]

Of course, Korea cannot permit complete freedom of movement into the country right away. There will be issues to be addressed, as more and more foreigners enter Korea. Some of them are already surfacing. Some foreign brides married to Korean farmers have difficulty adjusting to a new life in an unfamiliar country, in some cases leading to dysfunctional families.

Many young men who come to teach English at private institutions have questionable qualifications and background. Low-income immigrant workers are beginning to congregate in cheap neighborhoods, raising the prospect of ghettoes. [read full]

While some of what commissioner Choo Kyu Ho writes sounds at first over-simplified and even derogatory, upon second thought his arguments are well founded in recent events; foreign brides do face significant challenges, and many English-speaking foreigners (I wouldn’t relegate it to “men”) are significantly under-qualified to teach.

I certainly wouldn’t boast about immigrants being sources of cheap labor; this leads to the nasty stereotype that they aren’t capable of much else. However, comparing the situation to that of the U.S., it is undeniable that many immigrants (especially from Mexico) do the work that Americans themselves refuse to do – for better or worse.

(UPDATE: After a re-read and a second thought, the commissioner’s statements sound all too much like he’s giving the green light for exploitation of immigrants in the name of economic gain. These practices will only plant the seeds for disparity in future generations, creating cycles of poverty and increasing tension along socioeconomic and racial lines.)

Perhaps it’s just a bit of a shock to see all of this in print. Thoughts?

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November 2007