Establishing an immigration agency

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Establishing an immigration agency

Kim Dong-ho

The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

I had the opportunity to go on a trip to Mt. Jiri with John Linton, a professor at Yonsei University Medical School, whose ancestry in Jeolla goes back to more than a century. Ihn Yo-han, his Korean name, could pass as a Korean if not for his blondish western features, speaking in a Jeolla native dialect. Scolding his friends for slow drinking of soju, he spoke and behaved with the indigenous warmth and humor of Koreans often hard to find among Koreans today.

The skin color and features should not matter to live as a South Korean. In fact, Korea can no longer afford to, given that its birth rate is the lowest in the world. The fertility was 0.81 last year, which is even below China’s 1.15.

Fertility is deemed less likely to increase once it falls below two children per woman. The minimum threshold is 1.3. Under it could mean an eventual extinction of the race. Japan raised a huge fuss when the total fertility rate hit 1.3. South Korea’s rate has no bottom. It is most likely to hit a new low of 0.7 this year, but the country remains uninterested. The low fertility rate is rarely discussed. It is not polite to ask a young couple about their plans to have a baby. The society cannot pressure young people to have children, as it cannot afford the expensive childcare and education costs.

But we cannot let Korea move towards doom. Low birth means extinction. Tesla CEO Elon Musk voiced concerns about Japan’s fertility rate at 1.3, saying that the country could “cease to exist,” which would be a “great loss for the world.” South Korea’s population declined for the first time last year since the end of the Korean War. Japan estimated that if birth rate stays below 1.3 without any influx, the total population could shrink to 10 million after 200 years and the islands eventually could become uninhabited.

South Korea must aggressively seek a solution. A practical solution can be immigration. Korea is among the most closed societies on immigration in the developed category. Equally-closed Japan has been opening on the immigration front.
Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon explains to journalists what he said to President Yoon Suk-yeol about the justice ministry’s future plans, July 26. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

It benchmarked immigration policies of the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Residency is being readily offered to people in special professions and with skills and intelligence. The new policy has been in place for three to four years. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the results have not been published.

Korea has lacked any immigration roadmap. Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon proposed to establish an immigration agency. Korea must draw foreigners into the country before it is too late. Korea has spent 250 trillion won ($190.8 billion) to promote births since 2006, but birth rate has been only sinking.

There is no point of sticking to a being homogeneous race. Korea has become a familiar name across the country. BTS fans across the world recite their songs in Korean. Korea must stop clamping down on illegal migrant workers and willingly accept foreigners who wish to come to Korea. Like the Roman empire and the U.S., a country can become stronger by admitting immigrants. Farming and construction sites already cannot do without foreign migrant workers.

The Justice Ministry must speed up the plan to open an immigration agency based on the study of overseas cases and status. Past governments, under Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun presidencies, attempted the opening of immigration agency, but they could not go through the plan due to opposition. Few can oppose now. If qualifications meet, Korea must open doors to any foreign national wishing to live in Korea.

Han must pave the way.
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