Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Foreigners in Korea

I've studied Japanese politics and society, and many people comment on how difficult it is to be a foreigner in Japan, working or living. I think it's interesting that there seems to be a comparably difficult situation for foreigners in Korea, as described in this Chosun Ilbo report. The report focuses on financial and business related difficulties, such as problems getting a cell phone plan or internet without a Korean to sign you up for it, but it seems indicative of the kind of insularity that Japan is often accused of.

I would also imagine that reactions like these are rooted in negative reactions to foreigners on their soil previously, like the Japanese, specifically. Is that an accurate assessment? Is there a controversy regarding immigration policy in Korea as there is in the US?


Sayaka said...

I only stayed in Korea for 3 months before so long-term residents might have a different experience. For me, the cell phone issue and communications are trivial issues. It's common everywhere and if you have no trouble communicating with locals, it is rather boring. The biggest frustration I (and many other friends of mine) is the registration number system. You cannot open a bank account, or order things online, or participate in any web-based activities. Ok, I can understand and bear it as a completely foreign national, but it is tragic to many ABKs.
I signed up for this petition:
Let Foreign Nationals Register On-Line in Korea Too

Jaime said...

To speak to one of the questions that Erin raised, there is some controversy surrounding immigration in Korea. From my experience living in Korea, there were two types of barriers for foreigners: the bureaucratic barriers (such as registration numbers and cell phone restrictions as mentioned in the article as well as naturalization policies) which can speak to systemized exclusion and the behavioral barriers (including the projection of stereotypes and discrimination) demonstrated by individuals. In either case, and in the case of Korea, race plays a key factor in distinguishing someone as being not Korean.

One way to gauge Korea’s attitude towards foreigners is to look at their naturalization policies. According to this report by the Migration Policy Institute, attaining Korean citizenship is possible but rare and requires either a connection to Korea by ancestry or marriage or by meeting a 5-year residency requirement and passing an interview in Korean testing the applicant’s knowledge of Korean history and culture.

In my brief study of immigration and discrimination in Japan, one bureaucratic measure that systematizes xenophobia is the koseki-tohon – a family registry which documents the address and lineage of a town’s citizens. This registry system is one mechanism that maintains Japanese homogeneity and indicates a strict, almost impenetrable naturalization process. I don’t believe that Korea has such an institutionalized system. Still, the notion of Korean "blood" is very prevalent.

It was pretty clear that the type foreigner described in the article was a) an English speaker and b) spoke to the issues that students, English teachers, people traveling to Korea on business and not the large underclass of low-skilled foreign workers in Korea to complete manual labor or, in the case of many women, work in the sex industry.