61% of Koreans View Foreigners Not Members of Korea

Kim Se-jeong, Korea Times, January 3, 2018

More than six out of 10 Koreans do not view migrant workers as “members of Korea,” a survey showed Wednesday, indicating the country still has a long way to go until becoming a truly multiracial society.

According to the Overseas Korea Foundation’s survey of 820 adults nationwide, 61.1 percent of respondents have difficulties in accepting migrant workers as members of society, a sign of deteriorating public opinion toward non-Koreans.

In the foundation’s 2013 survey, only 57.5 percent said they did not accept them as members of Korean society.

Last year, 56,000 new migrant workers came to Korea on a working permit program, mostly from Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Since 1995, the government has been inviting migrant workers to fill in gaps in the labor market.

The foundation didn’t ask for reasons behind the respondents’ viewpoint, but concluded that a recent economic downturn was to blame. “Bad economic conditions seemed to have contributed,” Lee Sung-june from GRI Research, which was commissioned to conduct the survey, said. “This won’t help Korea to grow and become a more diverse and open society. Something has to be done to overcome it.”

The result reflected traditional Korean society that believes in homogeneity.

As Korea’s economic growth draws many foreigners looking for opportunities or to travel, more foreign visitors and residents complain about racial discrimination.

The negative attitude toward foreigners also serves as an obstacle for the government that is considering opening up the labor market for immigrants. Many experts warned that with a working population that is rapidly declining, the government must pursue an active immigration policy that makes up for this. But public opinion is apparently leading it to remain on the sidelines.

One positive aspect shown in the survey was that 57.1 percent acknowledged that they were not open enough to and discriminative of foreigners.

Asked about foreigners living in Korea for a long period of time, 57.3 percent answered they had no problem with this, down from 62.1 percent in 2013. Those who showed outright opposition were 13.4 percent, up from 12.3 percent. Almost 30 percent said their answer would change depending on where the foreigners came from, showing discrimination.

Asked about interracial marriage, 34.3 percent of single respondents answered they would marry a foreigner, while 65.7 percent said they wouldn’t. Yet, asked about having a non-Korean family member, 65.7 percent answered they had no problems with that.

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