One aspect of globalization that is receiving increasing scholarly attention is international migration, especially the transnational migration of workers. Practically every country of the world is affected in one way or another as either a sending or a receiving country. There are reportedly more than 500,000 foreigners residing in South Korea, with unskilled transnational migrant workers accounting for about a half of these.
Although the country's reliance on imported foreign labor is likely to continue unabated, the Korean government and society as a whole have been generally intolerant of foreigners living in Korea.
This paper examines various social factors, including the country's record-low fertility rate and rapid aging of its population, that all point to the continuation of labor importation. Such immigration will contribute to the making of a multiethnic Korean society.
The paper then analyzes the cultural factors that account for Koreans' low receptivity to foreigners and argues that it is the cultural ideology of ethnic homogeneity, based on the "one ancestor myth," that fuels an intense pride and stake in cultural uniqueness, linguistic homogeneity, and historical collectivity-sensibilities that government policy reinforces.
Andrew Eungi Kim is an Associate Professor in the Division of International Studies at Korea University and is currently a Visiting Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He received his Ph. D. in sociology from the University of Toronto in 1996. His primary research interests pertain to cultural studies, sociology of religion, social change, sociology of work, and comparative sociology.
Currently, he is revising two book-length manuscripts for publication: "The Rise of Protestant Christianity in South Korea: Religious and Non-Religious Factors in Conversion" and "Understanding Korean Culture: The Persistence of Shamanistic and Confucian Values in Contemporary Korea."