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Local govts. seek to attract foreign residents amid population decline

By Lee Jung-joo

Published : April 19, 2024 - 18:11

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A number of South Korea's local governments are actively seeking to attract long-term foreign national residents by offering region-specific work visas, amidst the country's population decline.

The city of Busan announced on Friday that it will accept applications from international students who graduated from universities in the Busan area for its F-2-R region-specific visas until May 10.

Under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, the F-2-R visa allows foreign nationals to live in South Korea for five years, with the condition that they live within specific government-designated local areas and work in designated sectors.

The designated sectors include industries in manufacturing, processing, retail, transportation, accommodation, services, education services, distribution and social work.

The ministry's region-specific visa project seeks to encourage foreign nationals with suitable backgrounds to settle in various regions by connecting local industries, jobs and universities. The overarching objectives are to grow the population, foster economic development and counter migration out of these regions.

For this round of applications, Busan set its quota for F-2-R visas at 120 and designated Seo-gu, Dong-gu, and Yeongdo-gu as its target districts -- each with a visa quota of 40.

If this quota remains unfilled during the first application period, Busan will initiate a second round of applications.

Eligible applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree or higher from a university based in Busan or be in their final semester with an expected graduation date.

Applicants must also demonstrate Korean proficiency at Topik level 3 or above or have completed level 3 or above in the Korea Immigration and Integration Program. Those intending to apply must also submit a letter of recommendation from their university.

Depending on their intended district of residence, applicants can apply for the visa through the three district offices.

Applicants must also be currently employed or have received a job offer within the above three districts in Busan to qualify for the visa. For those who do not meet the employment requirement, Busan is also offering job counseling at the Youth Do Dream Center, Busan Job Center and the Dongbusan Job Center and will conduct a job fair for international students on May 23.

F-2-R visas are tied to government-approved companies at which foreign national applicants have received job offers, and require visa holders to reside in their designated region for five years. The visa can be renewed after five years by following the application process again from the beginning.

In the event that an F-2-R visa holder does not currently live in the government-designated local area their visa is tied to, they must move to the district within three years of receiving the visa.

F-2-R visa holders must also live in the designated area for at least two years after receiving the visa and are then free to live in other districts in the region that are designated as at risk of population decline.

Meanwhile in North Chungcheong Province, the city of Jecheon has seen an increase in its total population of foreign national residents since accepting them through the F-2-R visa program in March 2023.

According to a Jecheon city government announcement on Thursday, a total of 175 foreign nationals have settled in Jecheon through the region-specific visa.

Through another project designed to help Koryoin, ethnic Koreans living in post-Soviet countries, to settle in Jecheon, 142 Koryoin have additionally made Jecheon their home since October last year.

Combining the efforts of the two initiatives, Jecheon has successfully attracted 317 new foreign national residents in just over a year.

“Excellent foreign talent who have verified Korean language skills contribute greatly to solving the labor shortage for local companies,” said a Jecheon city official.

“The policies presented by the city are being evaluated as an effective response to targeting the extinction of rural communities and population decline.”