The number of foreign residents ended four months of decline in March, according to Justice Ministry figures, but the population is still below its peak due mainly to a reduction in the number of young migrants.
Widely reported statistics released last week by the ministry showed that the headline number of foreign nationals in Korea rose past 1.9 million at the end of March, but this increase was mainly due to a rise in the number of tourists.
The number of foreign residents -- split by the ministry into the “registered” group and a separate one for F-4 visa holders -- has stayed fairly flat recently, with the number of registered residents falling 16,000 from a peak of 1.149 million in October.
Although the figure is only about 1.5 percent of the total, it was the first time the numbers had declined consistently since a period from early 2009 to early 2010, in the wake of the global financial crisis.
By age, the biggest declines were among the young, with the number of registered residents under 30 falling 36,860 from December to March, according to quarterly data from the ministry. By contrast the number of registered migrants aged 30-60 rose 16,399 and the number aged over 60 rose 11,993. Monthly data does not give numbers arranged by age.
By visa, the biggest declines in number were among migrant workers on E-9 and H-2 visas, though many of the last category may have shifted to F-4 visas.
The increase in registered residents has also slowed in recent years, rising 24 percent from the end of 2010 to end-2015, compared to 89 percent over the previous five years. This is despite a steady increase in overall foreign nationals here.
Lee Dong-jin, the officer responsible for migration data at the Justice Ministry, did not see any significant reason for the recent decline. He said the drop was small and expected the trend will return to its previous steady increase by the end of this year.
In other reports, the number of foreign nationals staying in the country illegally was reported to have risen, particularly in the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province. The reports gave the national total as 214,000, citing Justice Ministry figures.
This is a rise from 177,780 in 2012, but a decline as a proportion of foreign nationals here, from 12.3 percent to 11.3 percent.
However, Lee told The Korea Herald that the ministry had made the figures on illegal immigration confidential since January 2014, when monthly updates were stopped, and did not give them out to journalists.
By Paul Kerry (firstname.lastname@example.org)