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Number of foreigners in Korea exceeds 2 million

In nearly a decade the number of foreigners in Korea has doubled, hitting 2 million this year, government data showed Wednesday.

According to the Justice Ministry, the number of foreign residents was 2.18 million as of June 30, accounting for 3.9 percent of the nation’s entire population.

Considering the size of the foreign population grew by an annual average of 8 percent during the 2011-2015 period, the Justice Ministry expects the number to exceed 3 million and make up 5.82 percent of the population by 2021. 

Foreigners -- some wearing traditional Korean clothing, others military uniforms -- take part in the 2016 Namdaemun Market Global Festival that opened at the market in downtown Seoul on May 26 for a three-day run. The festival gives visitors a chance to experience both traditional and modern Korean culture. (Yonhap)
Foreigners -- some wearing traditional Korean clothing, others military uniforms -- take part in the 2016 Namdaemun Market Global Festival that opened at the market in downtown Seoul on May 26 for a three-day run. The festival gives visitors a chance to experience both traditional and modern Korean culture. (Yonhap)

Among the foreign population, 74 percent, or 1.48 million, had been staying in Korea for more than 90 days, the minimum number of days for them to be considered long-term residents. That was seven times higher than the 219,962 during the same period in 2000.

By nationality, the majority came from China at 50.6 percent. That was followed by Americans at 7.8 percent, Vietnamese at 7.2 percent, Thais at 4.6 percent and Filipinos at 2.7 percent, the data showed. 

Chinatown in Incheon (The Korea Herald)
Chinatown in Incheon (The Korea Herald)

The growth has been attributed to a rise in Chinese workers following the enforcement of the Visiting Employment System in 2007, open to ethnic Koreans in Russia and China, the ministry said. The number of Chinese in Korea soared from 58,984 in 2000 to 807,076 in 2016.

The Employment Permit System, which invites workers from 13 countries in Southeast Asia to fill jobs mostly in manufacturing and construction, also contributed to the rise in the foreign population, the ministry commented.

The number of foreigners staying in the country without a legitimate visa stood at about 200,000, making up 10.6 percent of the foreign population. Nearly 60 percent of them ended up staying here illegally after entering the country on a short-term tourist visa, the ministry said. 

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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