South Korea



  • Rank: 18 out of 38
  • MIPEX Score: 53
  • HEALTH 36

Key Findings

Changes in context

  • Evolving from country of net emigration to net immigration, especially for labour and family migration
  • Largest immigrant group are ethnic KRs from China who enter KR for temporary low-skilled work through the Working Visit System
  • Around 1/5 of immigrants in KR make use of the Employment Permit System. This group consists mainly of people from Southeast Asia
  • Increasing number of foreign family members of KR citizens have started to arrive since the late 1990s
  • Attitudes towards immigrants slowly improving over time in KR and JP (around 2/3 with positive attitudes in 2012) 

Changes in policy

KR lost 1 point on the MIPEX scale in 2014, due to restrictions on family reunion (-4 points) and permanent residence (-1 point). With some important exceptions, transnational couples cannot reunite if the foreign spouse does not start learning KR from abroad and the KR spouse does not earn 120% of the minimum cost of living. In addition, applicants for permanent residence can be rejected on vague grounds of social welfare and national interests. Few countries impose a language requirement for family reunion (only 7 other MIPEX countries) or so many vague grounds for permanent residence (15 others). With the aim to fight fraud, these restrictions run the risk of being disproportionate obstacles for vulernable groups and ineffective for improving integration outcomes in practice.

Conclusions and recommendations

For the 1st time, KR's efforts on integration can be directly compared to policies in all other developed countries of immigration, with MIPEX data from all countries from December 2014. KR's policies create only slightly more opportunities than obstacles for immigrants to fully participate in society. Compared to most other new countries of immigration, KR has very quickly improved its legal framework on integration, in a similar way as PT, ES or FI. As a result, KR is a leader among new countries of immigration around the world in areas such as labour market mobility, education and political participation. Its policies guarantee more equal rights, opportunities and support for immigrants than JP and most Central European countries. 

Immigrants benefit from its slight strengths on labour market integration and family reunion, while they may be poorly served by its slight weakness on health and citizenship policy. In other areas, KR's policies receive scores between 52-to-58 points on the 100-point MIPEX scale. These scores are below the international averages on anti-discrimination and permanent residence and above the international average on education and political participation. 

More specifically, KR's strengths include strong targeted employment support, school support, voting rights and support for immigrant associations. This strong targeted support emerged with the 2007 Multicultural Families Support Act, multicultural centers across the country and a budget today of 123.2 million won. These policies are relatively new and need to be fully evaluated as to their implementation and effectiveness. KR's weaknesses emerge across all 8 MIPEX areas, such as the implementation of intercultural education, the political liberties of foreigners, the restricted path to family reunion and permanent residence, the restriction of dual nationality, limited healthcare entitlements and weak discrimination definitions/mechanisms. KR could learn from the strengths in the traditional countries of immigration (AU/CA/NZ/US) as well as many Western European countries (e.g. Nordics and IT/PT/ES). 


  • MAY


Labour Market Mobility

Key Findings

KR's policies get temporary workers into jobs and family/permanent residents into favourable targeted support; greater openness could get both high- and low-educated residents into the right careers over the long-term

Policy Indicators

Do immigrants have equal rights and opportunities to access jobs and improve their skills?

KR sets slightly favourable conditions for foreigners to find jobs that match their skills and qualifications. KR's policies rank 11th, alongside the traditional countries of immigration, Western Europe and JP. These policies have not changed substantially in recent years.

Dimension 1: Access to labour market

  • Most legally resident foreigners in KR have the right to employment or self-employment in any sector, including the public sector, as in the majority of MIPEX countries
  • Temporary residents in South Korea do not immediately or quickly enjoy equal right to change jobs and sectors, unlike in several leading countries of labour migration (e.g. IT/PT/ES, Nordics, CA/US)
  • Family migrants face some restrictions on labour market access, unlike in 26 other MIPEX countries

Dimension 2: Access to general support

  • Limited access to education/grants for temporary workers and to public employment services for some family migrants
  • Immigrants can benefit from procedures to recognise foreign academic qualifications and skills, but not for professional qualifications (see instead AU, CA, DE, NL, NZ, SE, UK)

Dimension 3: Targeted support

  • Foreigners benefit from recently developed targeted support, ranking 9th and much more favourable than neighbouring Japan, the average EU country, and even US
  • Foreign workers in KR have the right to Employment Training for Foreign Workers, consisting of introduction to KR culture, legal rights and obligations
  • Foreign family members benefit from Multicultural Families Support Centres, Councils for Protection of Rights and Interests of Foreign Workers, and Open 'Dasom schools' 
  • Trainings on the needs of foreign workers are also provided to the Human Resources Development Services 
  • Other countries provide greater support for the long-term labour market integration of low-educated or unemployed temporary workers (e.g. Northern Europe, JP, PT) as well as recognition/bridging programmes for the high-skilled (e.g. DE, Nordics, AU/CA/NZ)

Dimension 4: Workers' rights

  • All legal immigrant workers are generally guaranteed equal workers’ rights in KR as in a dozen leading MIPEX countries (e.g. CA, DE, NL, PT, SE) 

Contextual factors

What other factors explain whether immigrants find skilled and well-paid jobs?

  • High employment rates and above-average GDP growth since 2010
  • Majority of recent migrants coming with temporary work or study permits
  • Slightly more rigid employment protection legislation than JP or OECD average
  • Limited exposure to KR language is possible outside KR

Family Reunion

Key Findings

New restrictions may decrease or delay family reunion without improving integration outcomes; guaranteed free courses abroad, equal rights and autonomous permits for spouses may be more effective to promote self-sufficiency and fight domestic violence

Policy Indicators

How easily can immigrants reunite with family?

Reuniting multicultural families in KR benefit from a slightly favourable legal framework for family's reunion and integration, around the European average and slightly better than JP's. Dropping 4-points in 2014, KR's new language/income requirements copied restrictive policies in a minority of European countries, in the name of fighting fraud within the 'mail-order bride business.' Evaluations from European countries suggest that these policies tend to decrease and delay family reunion, with disproportionate effects on vulnerable groups, all without significantly improving their language, education or employment outcomes.

Dimension 1: Eligibility

  • The eligibility rules for family reunion are slightly favourable for families and similar to JP
  • Sponsors can immediately apply to reunite with the nuclear family and, under certain conditions, with their dependent adult children and parents
  • Only certain categories of sponsors are entitled to family reunion; Industrial training visa holders in KR cannot apply for family reunion, which is similar to JP and more restrictive than other MIPEX countries attracting labour migration 
  • KR immigration law does not recognise same-sex partners (despite international trend in 26 countries, including JP) or long-term relationships (see instead 17 countries)

Dimension 2: Conditions

  • Ranking 8th, KR's legal requirements for family reunion are also slightly favourable for integration but no longer as supportive or equitable for families as, for example, in JP, ES or FI
  • KR sponsors must pay a basic fee and, since 2014, prove a legal income of 14.8 million won ($14000), although families with children should be exempt
  • This amount – 120% above the poverty line in KR – aims to prevent sponsors' and families' from using social benefits
  • 2014 KR-language pre-entry test will be favourable once enough free professional KR courses and tests are guaranteed for spouses in all countries of origin (or see FR practice of longer required courses in the country for spouses who cannot access courses/tests abroad);  Favourably, exemptions reflect that this KR language rule is not necessary for couples with children, another common language, high incomes, residence in KR or 1 year's marriage/partnership

Dimension 3: Security of status

  • Reunited families are slightly secure in their status in KR
  • Families' residence rights are the same as their sponsor's
  • KR authorities maintain fewer discretionary grounds than in JP or many European countries, although their personal/family circumstances may not be always taken into account in refusals or withdrawals

Dimension 4: Rights associated

  • Moreover the limited rights of reunited families are only halfway favourable to secure the economic and personal self-sufficiency of adult family members and to fight against domestic violence; sponsors have more rights than their foreign spouses and family members 
  • Families have more equal rights in 29 out of the 38 countries, with KR tied with CH and JP 
  • Although adult family members in KR can benefit from Support Centers for Multicultural Families, they cannot immediately apply for jobs or social assistance in the same ways as their sponsor, unlike in most MIPEX countries (see instead 23 other countries)
  • Their access to an autonomous permit is not automatic in cases of death, divorce or domestic violence (see instead AU, CA, NO, NZ, PT, ES)


Key Findings

KR leads most new countries of immigration to help immigrant pupils enroll and succeed in all types of schools, although multicultural education is still far from a reality 

Policy Indicators

Is the education system responsive to the needs of the children of immigrants?

Leading most new countries of immigration, KR has recently developed targeted school support that is halfway favourable for societal integration. KR's policies rank 11th out of the 38 countries, alongside several Western European countries and far ahead of JP. Multicultural families are helped to access schools and address pupils' specific learning needs, but few tactics are used to teach immigrant languages/cultures and multicultural education across the curriculum and school day. These types of policies are stronger in AU/CA/NZ and Nordic countries.

Dimension 1: Access

  • Multicultural families receive greater support to complete pre-primary, compulsory, vocational and higher education than in any other country than US
  • All children from multicultural families can access the education system in KR
  • New pupils are assessed and placed in school using standard tools (see role for external experts in FR, LU)
  • Immigrant pupils can benefit from language and extra targeted support at every stage of their educational career, under the 2007 Multicultural Families Act

Dimension 2: Targeting needs

  • Pupils from multicultural families should receive extra support before entering elementary school, Korean language courses, and counseling materials throughout their education
  • KR's policies are slightly favourable for targeting needs and ranking 10th, alongside Western European countries and traditional countries of immigration
  • Under Article 12 of 2007 Act, multicultural pupils and families should be well-informed about school and receive the extra academic support they need, usually through multicultural families support centres
  • Language support in pre-primary and compulsory education aims to secure academic fluency for all pupils, although quality measures and standards are under-developed
  • Training is provided but not required for all teachers to understand multicultural education

Dimension 3: New opportunities

  • KR is the one of the few countries starting to use schools as a place for societal integration, although the policies are still relatively weak at present in KR as in most countries
  • Immigrant pupils should be able to learn about their culture of origin (though no explicit support for learning immigrant languages, unlike in most countries)
  • The 2007 Act supports parents in multicultural families to participate at school (e.g. monitoring groups, committees, extracurricular activities)

Dimension 4: Intercultural education

  • Support for schools to fully implement multicultural education is slightly weak in KR, with a score near the international average
  • Authorities are supposed to enhance the understanding of diverse cultures and multicultural families in public and in all school levels, based on the 2007 Act
  • State initiatives provide political leadership, budgets and ad hoc training to support multicultural families
  • Schools do not receive systematic guidance, training and evaluations to implement this approach across the curriculum and the school day (see instead AU/CA/NZ/UK, Nordics, Benelux, PT)



Key Findings

As a well-developed new destination country, KR's health system is accessible but non-responsive to migrant patients; the key obstacles in KR are weaker healthcare entitlements than in all other developed countries 

Policy Indicators

Is the health system responsive to immigrants' needs?

Ranked 27th out of 38, KR's policies are slightly unfavourable to address health needs of all migrants. The major reeason is that healthcare entitlements are weaker in KR than in any other developed country. Otherwise, eligible migrant patients in KR experience services that are as generally accessible as in most well-developed countries but as non-responsive to their specific needs as in other new destination countries.

Click here to learn more about how MIPEX health was developed with IOM and EU’s COST/ADAPT network through ‘Equi-Health’ project and co-funded by European Commission’s DG SANTE. 

Dimension 1: Entitlements

  • Asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants have weaker entitlements to healthcare coverage in KR than in all developed countries, far weaker than in inclusive FR, CH, NL, SE, JP
  • All categories of immigrants face problems with documentation and discretion for their healthcare coverage
  • Undocumented migrants are excluded from the system, with only emergency care
  • Asylum-seekers are only entitled to health check-ups, emergency care and services approved by Justice Minister
  • Even legal migrants face complicated conditions to access the same healthcare coverage as KR citizens
  • The only exceptions to these complicated restrictions are for infectious diseases and for spouses of KR citizens (both for mother and child)

Dimension 2: Access policies

  • Health services are relatively accessible for eligible migrant patients in JP, KR and most well-developed countries
  • Eligible migrant patients benefit from information and health education through websites, courses/meetings and ad hoc cultural mediators, usually in JP, EN and CN language

Dimension 3: Responsive services

  • Both health services and policies are generally non-responsive to migrant patients' specific health needs in KR, JP and most other new destination countries with small and recent immigrant populations (see instead AU/NZ/US/UK, AT)
  • Volunteer and staff interpreters are available on ad hoc basis and often at partial cost to patients
  • Diagnostic procedures and treatment methods have just started to adapt to take into account patients' diverse sociocultural backgrounds
  • Standards, trainings and immigrant feedback/staff are missing in the KR health system

Dimension 4: Mechanisms for change

  • Government is starting to lead change to make migrant health a priority (see box)
  • Following the 2nd Basic Plan for Immigration Policy, government has started on an ad hoc basis to consult migrant health stakeholders and consider the impact of policies on migrant health 
  • More data, research and cross-cutting commitments are needed to address the specific needs and obstacles of migrant patients (see leading policies in English-speaking countries and NO)

Policy Box

Second Basic Plan for Immigration Policy 2013-2017 includes the following basic priorities:

  • health insurance for overseas students;
  • help immigrant children grow up in a healthy environment;
  • visit the immigrant spouse to provide information on healthcare during pregnancy, or for newborns, toddlers, or children, as the case may be;
  • include regional and local counseling and welfare for youth with a foreign background;
  • provide medical service as minimally required for health of foreigners in need of urgent medical care;
  • support for child care, education and health care to the children of immigrants by marriage.

Political Participation

Key Findings

KR is far ahead of most new destinations in securing the democratic participation of immigrants, with only a few gaps and weaknesses

Policy Indicators

Do immigrants have comparable rights and opportunities to participate in political life?

Immigrants in KR benefit from slightly favourable policies to participate in democratic decision-making. Here, KR's approach is far ahead most new countries of immigration, including JP. Only a few gaps and weaknesses keep KR from promoting political participation in a slightly favourable manner.

Dimension 1: Electoral rights

  • Immigrants in KR can vote in local elections (as in 20 other countries) as well as in regional elections (as in 8 others)
  • However they cannot stand as candidates in elections (see instead 14 European countries)

Dimension 2: Political liberties

  • KR is one of the few MIPEX countries denying key political liberties to foreigners, which is far below the standards in most MIPEX countries
  • Foreigners cannot be members of political parties in KR, as in only a few small recent destination countries in Central Europe
  • Equal rights are guaranteed in JP, traditional countries of immigration and all Western European countries

Dimension 3: Consultative bodies

  • Immigrants in KR can participate in and benefit from Foreigners' Policy Committees, with favourable powers at local, regional and national level
  • This KR model, however, is slightly unfavourable for promoting foreigners’ political participation because these bodies are not led and freely elected by foreigners or their associations in order to reflect all nationalities, both genders and the various types of immigrants (see instead bodies in the Nordic countries)

Dimension 4: Implementation policies

  • National, regional and local authorities provide financial support to create associations and represent immigrants' interests (similar to Western Europe, CA, NZ)
  • Immigrants are informed of all these political opportunities through meetings, courses and one-stop-shops

Permanent Residence

Key Findings

Falling below the international average on permanent residence, KR excludes many temporary residents from applying and many permanent residents from social assistance

Policy Indicators

How easily can immigrants become long-term residents?

The path to permanent residence is only halfway favourable in KR because more categories of foreigners are excluded from applying than in most MIPEX countries. This policy is slighly below the international average, with KR ranking 25th and dropping 1 point in 2014.

Dimension 1: Eligibility

  • KR and JP excludes more categories of foreigners than most MIPEX countries (e.g. short-term/low-skilled work like industrial trainee and working visit)
  • Eligible categories of immigrants can apply for a permanent permit after 5 years’ residence, as in most European countries, but under more vague provisions on interruptions in residence
  • In most MIPEX countries, anyone can become permanent resident even with residence interruptions of six months

Dimension 2: Conditions

  • Eligible applicants apply under relatively basic and clear requirements in KR as in a dozen countries
  • Applicants must prove they have a basic legal income and pay a basic fee
  • In 2014, authorities increased the fee by 400% from 50,000 to 200,000 won; the 1st time that immigration service increased since 1998

Dimension 3: Security of status

  • Immigrants face more discretionary procedures to become or remain permanent residents in KR than in 27 out of the 38 MIPEX countries
  • Applicants can be rejected for vague reasons such as 'risk to public order, social welfare and other national interests' according to the 2014 sojourn guide for foreigners
  • Permanent residents have very weak protections against expulsions, a problem in most countries (see stronger legal protections in AU, NZ and several Western European countries)
  • Once accepted, permanent residents enjoy indefinite residence rights in KR, as in most MIPEX countries as well as 2-year periods of absence from KR

Dimension 4: Rights Associated

  • Permanent residents generally enjoy equal socio-economic rights
  • The major exception is access to social assistance, which KR opens to foreigners under limited conditions (spouse of KR citizen and expecting/raising child or carrying for KR parent)
  • Equal rights are guaranteed in 30 out of the 38 countries, including CA and JP

Access to Nationality

Key Findings

KR's citizenship policies slightly out-of-touch with its new reality as a country of immigration

Policy Indicators

How easily can immigrants become citizens?

As in JP, KR's naturalisation policies are slightly unfavourable for integration and behind the traditional countries of immigration and the average EU country. JP and KR have not yet followed international reform trends in new countries of immigration to open up citizenship entitlements for children and dual nationality for foreigners. 

Dimension 1: Eligibility

  • The eligibility rules are generally favourable for immigrants, but not for their children
  • The wait is 5 uninterrupted years for ordinary applicants and 2-3 years for spouses of KR citizens, which are the most common standards in other MIPEX countries
  • Their children or grandchildren born or raised in KR do not have a specific right to KR citizenship, unlike in a growing majority of countries

Dimension 2: Conditions

  • The requirements and fees are relatively basic and comparable to most other MIPEX countries
  • Applicants must pass a basic income, criminal record and good character requirement
  • They can take enough free courses and materials to pass the language and integration assessment, although the law could more clearly exempt vulnerable groups (see AT, FI, FR, DE).

Dimension 3: Security of status

  • The procedure to become a KR citizen is less discretionary than in most other countries, with limited grounds for rejection and with the right to a reasoned decision and appeal
  • The procedure to withdraw Korean citizenship leaves new citizens more insecure than elsewhere, since most other MIPEX countries provide time limits and statelessness protections in these cases

Dimension 4: Dual nationality

  • Dual nationality is allowed as an exception for spouses or persons of merit, but not as a rule for ordinary applicants or vulnerable groups
  • This renunciation requirement creates a major obstacle to naturalisation for immigrants from countries allowing dual nationality
  • KR is falling behind international reform trends as dual nationality is embraced by an increasing majority of countries of destination and origin, who have seen many benefits but little-to-no risks (see most recently DK).

Real beneficiaries

How many immigrants are becoming citizens?

The number of naturalisations in KR was very small up until the 2000s. Over the past decade, these numbers have increased but fluctuated over time, up from around 4000 in 2002, peaking at 27000 in 2009 and fluctuating between 12000 and 19000 between 2010-12.

Contextual factors

What other factors explain why non-EU immigrants become citizens?

  • Mostly newcomers in new country of immigration
  • Family migrants likely to naturalise, but temporary workers not allowed to settle long-term
  • Many potentially interested foreigners from low-and-medium-developed countries
  • Only a minority allowed dual nationality by country of origin (e.g. PH, VN)

Outcome indicators

How often do immigrants become citizens?

In recent years, KR's naturalisation rate has been higher than JP's but lower than most MIPEX countries (1.3 naturalisations per 100 foreigners in 2012), alongside only a handful of countries in Central Europe, the Baltics, AT, DE and IT. KR's citizenship policies are likely the strongest factor determining these poor naturalisation outcomes for immigrants, particularly for men and women from developing countries. 


Key Findings

Discrimination protections are rather weakly defined and enforced in KR, despite its average equality policies and body

Policy Indicators

Is everyone effectively protected from racial/ethnic, religious, and nationality discrimination in all areas of life?

In 1979, KR ratified the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. By 2014, KR had developed an anti-discrimination framework that was only halfway favourable for protecting victims from discrimination, ranking 24th out of the 38 countries. Compared to JP, the definitions of discrimination are slightly stronger in KR and fields of application are much wider. However the mechanisms to enforce the law are just as weak in JP and KR, far below the standards in most countries.

Dimension 1: Definitions

  • The definitions of discrimination are weaker in KR than in 34 other countries (on par with LV, not as weak as JP and IS)
  • All public and private bodies are not supposed to discriminate against people, according to the National Human Rights Commission Act and Treatment of Foreigners Framework Act
  • But discrimination is defined in a general way, without specific definition of direct/indirect/multiple discrimination, harassment, racial profiling, incitment to discriminate/hate, etc. (more specific definitions are only provided on disability and gender)

Dimension 2: Fields of application

  • KR's slightly weak definitions of racial, ethnic, religious and nationality discrimination apply in all areas of life, under the National Human Rights Commission Act, Article 2
  • 15 other MIPEX countries also take a comprehensive approach with their stronger definitions of racial, ethnic, religious and nationality discrimination

Dimension 3: Enforcement mechanisms

  • Potential victims of discrimination face many more obstacles to access justice in KR and JP than in 34 out of the 38 countries
  • Only IS and TU provide weaker mechanisms to enforce the law
  • Potential victims do not have an explicit right to file a discrimination claim in judicial and criminal matters and can only benefit from compromise and conciliation procedures under the National Human Rights Commission
  • Nor can they benefit from shifts in the burden of proof and protection against victimisation, unlike in most countries
  • Class actions or actio popularis are also not possible in KR, unlike in 21 countries

Dimension 4: Equality policies

  • KR authorities make an average effort to promote equality in practice, ranked 19th out of the 38, alongside other leading new destinations and far ahead of JP
  • The powers of the National Human Rights Commission are average for most countries and halfway favourable to help potential victims
  • Victims can seek legal advice from the Commission, and also benefit from investigation of the facts of their cases
  • The Commission does not have the power to instigate proceedings/investigations on behalf of victims or in its own name (see instead AU/CA/NZ/UK/US, FI/NO/SE, PT)
  • KR equality policies are also average; The State initiates public dialogue on discrimination and works on the issue but could do more to promote equality duties and compliance monitoring (see instead AU/CA/NZ/UK/US, NO/SE)



New results of MIPEX

We are pleased to announce that the new results of MIPEX (2014-2020) will be published by the end of 2020. MIPEX 2020 will include 52 European and non-European countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, EU28, India, Japan, Mexico, US and much more. Stay tuned!