South Korea remains a strongly homogeneous country, yet in recent years there has been an increasing inflow of migrants. Workers from developing countries in Asia hope to find employment in Korea’s labor-intensive industries while highly skilled workers from OECD nations are attracted to Korea’s booming financial centers and corporate headquarters. Foreigners now amount to 3.5% of the total population.
One particular element of immigration in Korea however is the strong influx of migrant women. Faced with declining fertility rates and the rural exodus of young women looking for better prospects in urban areas, the Korean countryside as well as cities have been bringing foreign brides, raising concerns about their inclusion into Korean society, the discriminations they may face, and how Korea intends to manage its newfound “multiculturalism”.
Our guest for this episode, Sohoon Lee, is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, focusing on the experience of migrant women in South Korea. We talk about Korea’s immigration policies and their underlying ideology, the particular situation of migrant women, and what recent migration trends mean for Korean nation building.
Sohoon Lee has written policy papers for UN Women, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, and worked at the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) in areas of ASEAN human rights mechanisms, indigenous people in Southeast Asia, and documentation of human rights violation. She completed her BA (Hons.) with high distinction in Asia-Pacific Studies at the University of Toronto and earned a Master of Human Rights and Democratization (Asia-Pacific) at the University of Sydney.
If we imagine [multiculturalism] to be the most ideal form [to embrace] diversity, plurality, coexistence of cultures – that has never been the focus of multicultural policies or “damunhwa” […] policies. The focus has been bringing in foreign women into Korean families and making Korean families. Instead of, say, educating the children in foreign languages or educating the public to be more open to other cultures, other nationalities. […] [The focus] has been to educate foreign women in Korean language, Korean culture, how to make Kimchi, things like that.
The interview was conducted on May 13th in Seoul.