The Korea Herald


[News Focus] Number of foreigners in Korea up for 1st time in 20 months

But with increase of less than 1 percent tally still stuck at mid-2016 level

By Kim Yon-se

Published : Sept. 26, 2021 - 16:40

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A foreigner is interviewed online during a job fair in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, in September 2020. (Yonhap) A foreigner is interviewed online during a job fair in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, in September 2020. (Yonhap)

SEJONG -- The number of foreigners in South Korea climbed last month, in the first monthly increase since COVID-19 hit the nation in early 2020, immigration data showed.

According to the Korea Immigration Service, the tally for foreign nationals -- both long-term and short-term visitors -- reached 1.976 million as of August, up 2,858 from a month earlier.

This is the first time in 20 months that the tally has grown on-month. After peaking at 2.52 million in December 2019, the figure has declined.

The figures were 2.2 million in March 2020, 2.13 million in June 2020, 2.1 million in September 2020, 2.03 million in December 2020, 1.99 million in March 2021 and 1.98 million in June 2021.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald) (Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)

The rebound in August, though the extent was meager, was somewhat attributed to a surge in the number of inbound visitors to study in universities or international schools, while the figure for inbound tourists remained in the doldrums.

KIS data showed that the number of visitors for study increased more than 800 percent from 1,753 in July to 17,319 in August. Those included foreign students, who returned to Korea for new semesters after residing in their homelands for several weeks or months.

In contrast, the tally for foreign nationals for sightseeing or other short-term stay with B-2 visa decreased by 16 percent from 11,820 to 9,908.

Despite the bounce-back, the number of foreigners staying in the nation as of last month still stayed at the level of mid-2016.

On a yearly basis (each December), the number of foreigners here broke through the 1 million-mark for the first time in 2007, rising every year until 2020

Compared to December 2019, the number of long-term visitors -- people staying in Korea 91 days or longer – is down by 9.9 percent (171,550) to 1.56 million in August 2021.

The figure for short-term visitors -- those with permission to stay in Korea for no more than 90 days -- plunged by 47.4 percent (376,107) to 416,746 over the corresponding period.

The sharper drop among those for short-term stay could be attributable to a marked fall in the number of inbound travelers for sightseeing or business amid the pandemic.

Chinese still made up the greatest portion of the total, with 851,615 Chinese nationals in Korea as of August, though the figure slid by 22.7 percent from 1.1 million in December 2019. Ethnic Koreans from China, or Chinese citizens of Korean descent, made up more than 73 percent (621,733) of the 851,615 Chinese here.

The tally for Vietnamese and Thais trailed after, accounting for 209,839 and 174,052 people, respectively. US nationals made up the fourth-biggest group with 145,724, including about 28,500 US military troops stationed here.

The next on the list were people from Uzbekistan at 66,181, Russia at 48,511, the Philippines at 47,592, Cambodia at 41,239, Mongol at 37,963, Nepal at 37,092, Indonesia at 34,514 and those from Kazakhstan at 30,389.

The number of Japanese visitors showed a noteworthy decrease over the corresponding 20-month period.

In December 2019 there were 86,196 Japanese nationals in Korea, and the country was No. 5 in the number of foreigners staying in the nation. But it had fallen to No. 13 as of July 2021 with just 28,631 Japanese here, a 66.7 percent drop.

By age, people in their 30s made up the largest portion of foreign residents here, with 27.5 percent (543,546 people), followed by those in their 20s with 21.7 percent (428,538), those in their 40s with 16.7 percent (330,511) and those in their 50s with 15.3 percent (301,695).

By Kim Yon-se (