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Joining military increasingly competitive

In the face of a long-running job crunch, young South Korean men are finding it increasingly difficult to join the military for the obligatory two-year service, with an acceptance rate hovering around a mere 13 percent this year, a lawmaker said Monday.

Between January and July, only 84,224 out of 630,427 applicants were enlisted in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps, beating odds of 1 in about 7.5, said Rep. Chung Mi-kyung of the ruling Saenuri Party, based on data submitted by the Military Manpower Administration for an annual audit. Acceptance is skewed toward older candidates who must enlist by age 38.

The rate is down 3.2 percentage points from 16.6 percent last year, when 134,393 out of 807,520 were accepted.

By branch, the Air Force proved to be most competitive this year, with about 8.2 people chasing every post, followed by the Army with 7.9, the Marine Corps with 6.1 and the Navy at 5.9.

The widening mismatch reflects the cutthroat competition in the job market, as well as a surge in military resources -- chiefly the offspring of baby boomers who were born between 1955 and 1963, the lawmaker said, citing the MMA’s analysis.

There were some 336,000 servicemen candidates born in 1990, 349,000 in 1991, 364,000 in 1992, 374,000 in 1993, 378,000 in 1994 and 380,000 in 1995. Yet the military’s demand for draftees continues to decline, from 271,000 last year to 250,000, in line with the military’s ongoing reform plan.

As a result, the Defense Ministry is adjusting the quota upward and tighten physical test standards.

“Despite the measures, the competition will inevitably continue to increase given the extensive discrepancy between supply and demand and youth unemployment,” Chung said, calling for a comprehensive overhaul of the MMA’s conscription system.

Yet the trend contrasts with the growing number of South Koreans who give up their nationality and thereby become exempt from the military service.

In 2014, 4,386 men opted for foreign citizenship, up from 3,375 in 2013, according to Rep. Jin Sung-joon of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, also citing MMA statistics.

Taking into account the 2,374 renunciations registered between January and July this year, the five-year tally tops 16,000. The seven-month total also includes 30 children of secretary- or higher-level public servants, Jin noted.

The U.S. remains their most preferred second home, followed by Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In South Korea, all physically able young men are subject to compulsory military service for about two years, after which they are required to receive six rounds of three-day training over a period of eight years.

By Shin Hyon-hee (