Passengers walk past duty free stores in Terminal 1 at Incheon Airport. (Yonhap)
The number of foreign nationals staying in South Korea shrank nearly 4 percent on-year in 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Korea Immigration Office said Wednesday.
The number was tallied at 1.96 million as of the end of last year, a 3.9 percent decrease from 2.04 million in 2020 and down 23 percent from a record high of 2.52 million in 2019.
They include 1.57 million long-term residents and 386,000 people staying for fewer than 90 days. its data showed.
It is the first time that the foreign population has fallen below 2 million since 2016.
The trend is attributable to the decline in the number of foreign arrivals due to COVID-19, which first hit the nation in early 2020, the office said.
Chinese accounted for 43 percent of the total with 840,000, including 614,000 ethnic Koreans. Vietnamese came next with 208,000, followed by Thais with 171,000 and Americans with 140,000.
By region, Gyeonggi Province had the largest foreign population of 360,000, followed by Seoul with 226,000, Incheon with 66,000 and South Gyeongsang Province with 63,000.
Among 21,160 applicants, 13,636 people acquired Korean nationality last year, including 5,145 Chinese and 4,225 Vietnamese.
About 2,340 people applied for refugee status and 72 were recognized as refugees, increasing the total since 1994 to 1,163, the statistics showed.
There were 388,000 undocumented foreigners at the end of 2021, down 0.9 percent from 392,000 of the previous year. (Yonhap)