Korean migrant numbers shrink

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Korean migrant numbers shrink


The number of Koreans migrating to other countries has diminished rapidly over the past few years, according to data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, reflecting a drastic change in how Koreans view their country and their long-term futures in it.

And the number of Koreans returning from abroad are up.

A 2011 diplomatic white paper the ministry released last week showed that the number of migrants to other countries was 899 in 2010, down 22 percent from a year earlier.

The number of Koreans emigrating peaked in 1976 at 46,533, but remained above 10,000 per year a decade ago.

“The gradual improvement of the living environment in Korea and its relatively fast recovery from the global economic crisis seem to be turning what once was an exodus into a u-turn,” said an official of the ministry.

Among the 899 migrants last year, 447 said they were leaving at the invitation of their families that reside in foreign countries, followed by 101 who said they got jobs overseas. Eighty nine others said they were moving out because of an international marriage, and 66 others migrated for business.

The ministry said the figures in each category have dropped over the decades. Most migration in the 1960s, peaking in 1969 with 9,755 emigrants, was for international marriages or at the invitation of families overseas. The migration of the 1970s was spurred by Koreans’ search for jobs overseas, due in many cases to the construction boom in the Middle East, and a surge in the number of Korean miners and nurses hired in Germany.

In the mid-1980s, business became the driving factor behind Korean emigration, with more than 4,000 citizens leaving a year. One official at the ministry cautioned that the official statistics could be misleading because they only count people who report their emigration. The current overseas residence law has no clause to punish Koreans who do not report their departure.

Still, the number of Koreans who went overseas without reporting to the authorities is estimated to be steady at about 20,000 annually over recent years, and also decreasing, another official said.

The White Paper also showed an increasing trend of Koreans coming back after living overseas.

The number of Koreans returning for permanent residence hit 4,199 last year, up 42 percent from 2,962 in 2003.

Foreigners’ migration to Korea is also on the rise. The government estimates there were 1.17 million expatriates in Korea, or approximately 2.5 percent of the Korean population, as of the end of 2009. It is expected to rise to 5 percent by 2020.

The Ministry of Strategy and Finance said Sunday it started studying the possibility of creating a state agency that would exclusively deal with immigrants to Korea.

Currently, many government agencies, including the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Employment and Labor, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, work on immigration to Korea.

“Many foreigners have come to live here and more will follow, so we thought it would be necessary to prepare for a full-fledged immigration era, in which we need to manage immigrants in a more efficient and comprehensive manner,” said Yu Seong-cheol, a director at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [연합]

연간 1천명도 안간다…해외이주 급감

지난해 처음으로 해외이주 신고 1천명 미만 기록

1962년부터 통계를 작성한 이후 지난해 처음으로 해외 이주(이민)를 신고한 국민이 1천명 아래로 떨어진 것으로 나타났다.

10일 외교통상부의 `2011년 외교백서` 등에 따르면 2010년 한 해 동안 해외이주를 신고한 국민 수는 전년(1천153명)보다 22% 감소한 899명을 기록했다.

연도별로는 통계를 처음 작성한 1962년 386명을 기록한 이후 해외 이주 신고는 매년 급증, 1976년 4만6천533명으로 정점을 찍은 뒤 감소세로 돌아섰다. 그러나 이후에도 2000년대 초반까지 `코리아 엑서더스`는 계속돼 연간 1만명 이상이 삶의 터전을 국내에서 해외로 옮겼다.

그러다 2003년 9천509명을 기록, 처음으로 신고자수 1만명대가 깨진 뒤 2005년 8천277명, 2006년 5천177명, 2007년 4천127명, 2008년 2천293명, 2009년 1천153명, 지난해 899명으로 줄었다.

2003년부터 지난해까지 10년도 안 되는 기간에 90%나 감소한 것이다.

반면 이 기간 외국으로 이주했던 재외동포의 영주귀국은 2천962명(2003년)에서 4천199명(2010년)으로 41.7%나 증가했다.

`코리아 엑서더스`의 급감과 해외 이주민의 역(逆)이주 현상은 우리나라의 경제력ㆍ국력이 향상된 반면 글로벌 경제위기 등의 이유로 미국 등의 경제 상황이 나빠지면서 한국과 선진국 간 격차가 상당 부분 해소됐기 때문으로 분석된다.

외교부 관계자는 "우리나라 경제여건의 호전에 따라 해외 이주 희망자가 주는 반면 역이주는 느는 경향을 보이고 있다"고 말했다.

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