Amid a recent surge in crimes committed by foreign nationals here, social prejudice has become more prevalent toward illegal migrant workers, especially those from developing countries.
However, an expert cautioned against such prejudgment, saying the number of undocumented residents has been decreasing for years.
“There is no direct relation between illegal migrant workers and the growth of crimes by foreign nationals,” Choi Young-shin, senior researcher at the Korea Institute of Criminology, said in an article.
The article was released Sunday in Midri, a bimonthly journal for migrant workers published by the Migration and Diaspora Research Institute.
The number of crimes by foreign nationals surged in recent years, Choi said, with confirmed cases jumping five-fold from 6,800 in 2001 to 34,900 in 2008.
However, the number of foreign nationals staying illegally here has continued to decrease for years after the figure peaked in 2002 at 308,000, Choi said.
According to Foreign Affairs and Justice Ministries, among 1.2 million foreign nationals in Korea as of June, undocumented residents accounted for 14.1 percent or 174,000 people.
“Because they are expelled out of the country immediately when arrested, illegal residents are less likely to commit crimes,” Choi said, adding that their crime rate was lower than those of documented residents or Korean nationals.
“The crime rate of foreign nationals here is soaring faster than the increase rate of their total number. Except for their number, other factors such as the influence of law enforcement should be considered to analyze the trend more exactly,” Choi said.
Choi said undocumented migrant workers who violate the immigration law need to be distinguished from people who commit violent crimes.
“Many Koreans regard them as potential criminals and such misunderstanding affects the general awareness about migrant workers from developing countries,” Choi said.
“Like Korean criminals, foreign nationals commit crimes as they form complicated relations with others, regardless of their legal status.”
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org)