Saturday, January 5, 2008

One million aliens

1,000,254 foreigners live in Korea. That's not much (a little bit over 2% of the population), but the number almost tripled within the last 10 years. And it starts showing.

Chinese represent 44.1% of the total and Americans 11.8%, but the majority of these Chinese "foreigners" (266,764) are ethnic Koreans... and I wouldn't be surprised to see a similar pattern among the 117,938 US citizens registered by the Ministry of Justice. The Korean diaspora going mobile seems a key driver anyway.

Another internal driver is the recent trend of "spouses imports" : 104,749 immigrants are married to Koreans - three times more than in 2002. And we are not just talking high rise international weddings but also about farmers picking up wives in South East Asian rice paddies. Mixed kids with a cultural handicap (inadapted mother at home and xenophobic neighbors around) are becoming a national issue.

And emerging countries are the main providers of "aliens". Japan and Taiwan lag behind Vietnam, Philippines and Thailand (15.7% for the 3 combined). But if there are 1.5 times more illegal immigrants than 10 years ago, they only represent 22.5% of the total, down from 38.3%.

Songdo New Town intends to compete with the likes of Singapore or Hong Kong, proposing lavish penthouses and wide green spaces one hour away from China and Japan to Westerners. But will they rush to new towns as quickly as Koreans did for Bundang ?

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