South Korea/ 4. Current issues in cultural policy development and debate  

4.2.4 Cultural diversity and inclusion policies

Korea has been an ethnically homogeneous society for a relatively long time. This may be attributed to the legislation conferring nationality according to the ancestral grounds and a exclusive system of accepting immigrants. However, in the last 20 years, a large influx of migrants has reversed this trend. Shortages of unskilled labour, an increase in the unmarried male population in localities, and intensification of the global economy has resulted in an influx of various groups of foreigners from diverse ethnic and national backgrounds. The national statistic database shows that slightly above 2% of the national population now consists of diverse foreign nationals. This may be perceived as insignificant in comparison with other multicultural countries, but for Korea it is a striking social phenomenon due to its hitherto exclusive ideas about ethnicity and nationality. The biggest immigrant group is migrant workers with short-term residential permits for a specific employment period. Later, women emigrated for the purpose of marriage. The official records are not kept on the basis of ethnicity or race because in the present the issue is perceived as cross-border (nationality) issue rather than racial issue. The fact that the majority of migrants are Chinese-Korean may support this argument. It is notable, however, that the migrating women are mostly from Southeast Asian countries. This has triggered a different policy response of treating these women as a minority group.

There is no stated policy regarding the cultural rights of the migrant population. Programs to preserve immigrant cultures have been attempted, but have received little social attention and have been fragmented in nature. Few publicly funded programs to maintain second mother tongue for children of multicultural background have been implemented. Similar efforts in respect of migrant’s language have been adopted by local public administration and information and services is being provided in different languages, especially when the service is highly relevant to the minority group.

Chapter published: 29-11-2013