Foreigners look at the promotion signboard for a nationwide event -- under which the government and companies provide inbound visitors with a variety of discounts in segments such as shopping, transportation and lodging -- in downtown Seoul in January 2020. (Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism)
SEJONG -- The number of foreign nationals in South Korea has dropped to the lowest level in more than four years in the wake of the pandemic, state data showed.
According to the Korea Immigration Service, the tally for foreign nationals in the nation -- both as long-term residents and short-term visitors -- stayed at 1.99 million in April, down about 9,000 from 1.999 million a month earlier.
This was the lowest number in 50 months since the figure stood at 1.986 million in February 2017.
This is an unprecedented drop as the number of foreigners here, which surpassed the 1 million mark for the first time in history in 2007, continued to rise on a yearly basis -- 1.45 million in 2012, 1.8 million in 2014, 2.04 million in 2016 and 2.36 million in 2018.
After peaking at 2.52 million in December 2019, the tally has slid over the past 16 months -- starting from January 2020 (2.42 million), when the first infection of novel coronavirus was reported in Korea.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)
Compared to December 2019, the number of long-term visitors (people staying 91 days or longer) declined by 9.2 percent (159,458) to 1.57 million, while the figure for short-term visitors -- those with permission to stay in Korea for no more than 90 days -- plunged by 47.2 percent (374,970) to 417,883.
The sharper drop among short-term visitors is attributed to a marked fall in the number of inbound tourists for sightseeing.
Of the 1.99 million, the number of foreign residents was 1.1 million. These are long-term visitors, but the tally does not include ethic Koreans on F-4 visas.
Chinese nationals still made up the greatest portion of the total, with 865,087 Chinese people staying in Korea as of April 2021, though the figure slid by 21.4 percent from 1.1 million in December 2019. Ethnic Koreans from China -- Chinese citizens of Korean descent -- made up more than 71.9 percent (622,843) of the 865,087 Chinese here.
Vietnamese and Thais were next most numerous, respectively accounting for 209,772 and 176,467 people. Many of these were laborers or wives of Korean men who had extended their stay here, while others chose to visit despite the epidemic.
US nationals took up 145,465 people, including about 28,500 US military troops stationed here, constituting the fourth-most-numerous group.
Among the next on the list were Uzbeks at 64,556, Russians at 49,069, Philippine nationals at 48,469, Mongolians at 40,925, Nepalese at 37,367 and Indonesians at 35,360. Next were Cossacks at 30,033, Japanese at 27,280, Myanmarese at 25,154 and Canadians at 21,767.
By age, those in their 30s accounted for the largest proportion with 27.8 percent (553,849 people), followed by those in their 20s with 21.2 percent and those in their 40s with 16.8 percent.
Nonetheless, there are signs that the number of inbound travelers may gradually rebound, though the recovery pace is still meager, KIS data showed.
The tally for foreign inbound visitors to Korea reached 74,608 in April, up 116 percent from 34,544, posted in the corresponding month of last year.
By nationality, the number of visitors from China increased from 4,685 to 18,299 on-year, while those from the US and Japan increased from 6,830 and 495, respectively, to 15,267 and 1,090.
Likewise, the number of Korean outbound travelers increased 127 percent from 31,593 in April 2020 to 71,972 in April 2021.
By Kim Yon-se (email@example.com