Foreign Talent Leaving Korea Due to “Three Serious Difficulties”

Koreans are commonly concerned about how non-Koreans view their country, and one index for measuring this is the number of foreigners living in Korea.

According to an article in the Jungang Ilbo today ("Foreign Talent Leaving Korea Due to "Three Serious Difficulties"), the number of foreigners living in Korea is about 1.22 million. However, of these, only about 40,000 are classified as "professionals"; the others would mainly be laborers, students and immigrant wives.Furthermore, of the professionals, about 20,000 are in the English-teaching profession, meaning that there are about 20,000 non-Koreans working in Korea in professional jobs that are not related to ESL.

The chart below shows that the number of foreigners in Korea has more than doubled since 2005, but that the increase is slowing significantly.


The article points out that the number of foreign professionals actually declined over the last year and in a survey, three main complaints foreigners have about Korea are listed in more detail in one of the sub-articles ("Schools for Foreigners Are Too Expensive… He Sent the Family Away and is Living as a 'Goose' Father" - "Goose Father" is the term Koreans normally use to refer to a Korean father who works in Korea to pay for his wife and children to live overseas for a year or two so that the children can get a foreign education.)

  1. The cost of education at international schools is prohibitive and the article mentions that professionals with school-age children often cannot afford to keep their families in Korea. 
  2. English is not spoken widely enough and non-Koreans speakers face a lot of difficulties, from things as basic as using appliances at home all the way to not being able to participate and thrive in the workplace. An American executive working for a Korean conglomerate is quoted as saying that her work was determined by what documents were translated for her by subordinates and that she was never given an English-language work review or specific work instructions in English.
  3. The government has put restrictions on the types of jobs foreigners can get a professional visa for and the procedures for getting such a visa approved are onerous. In many cases, this process takes 3-4 months and involves a letter of recommendation from a local government head. Considering the difficulties many Koreans have getting good jobs themselves, this letter of recommendation is not always forthcoming.

Htm_2010100321533550005010-001Finally, in a third article entitled "English Isn't Easy in Lectures or in Everyday Life… Goodbye, Korea", there is the story of an Indian professor, M. Desai (photo at left), who had signed a six-year contract to work at Seoul National University but ended up leaving Korea after only nine months, complaining mostly of the difficulties of working in an environment where English is not spoken fluently. This really surprises me because Seoul National University is one of the top schools in Korea!

These types of stories keep showing up in the Korean news and many Koreans are earnestly looking forward to the day that non-Koreans come to Korea and find it to be as international and liveable as any other globalized place in the world. It seems Korea still has a long way to go.


4 Responses

  1. Jeff says:

    I’ve lived here for two years, and will not be living here for a third. This article makes it seem as if the only problem is the language barrier.
    It isn’t. There is so much racism, so much xenophobia here that it isn’t even funny. For the past eight months, I’ve heard nothing but “you foreigner trash” this, and “american scum” that (both comments made by my Korean “colleagues” mind you!).
    I’d appreciate it if writers of articles such as these stopped making Korea look like a country “struggling” to welcome foreigners. The truth is that the majority of Koreans hate foreigners and would just as soon push them onto the rails in front of an oncoming subway train and laugh at the aftermath as have any kind of conversation with them.

  2. Interesting perspective! In nearly 20 years, I’ve never had conversations with Koreans like you’re describing. Lots of non-Koreans aren’t cut out for life in Korea, that’s for sure.

  3. Dave Woods says:

    Jeff, you’ve been in Korea two years but the trouble started within the last 8 months?
    Discrimination is global; it’s unfortunately part of the human condition. We like our own tribes best.
    That Koreans can seem more overt about their likes and dislikes does not make them uniquely discriminatory, just honest.
    As Mom would say, “consider the source,” and then move on. Good luck with your next adventure.

  4. fred says:

    I am white, mid thirties lived in SK for 7+ years now
    In all that time I have been the victim of only 1 hard core racist incident. It happened during my 2nd year whilst taking the Friday bus from Seongnam to Daejeon. As usual i booked my ticket on the Thursday and went to the station on a Friday evening I went to sit down in my seat on the bus, suddenly hand on shoulder ,no words, bus driver was physically wrenching me out of my seat and off the bus, as i was leaving a young korean man stood up and asked whats wrong ? i showed him my ticket to my surprise the korean defended me
    and after a while the old driver came to his senses.

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