News / Asia

Ethnic Koreans from China Hit by Seoul Visa Policy

Kim Young-hwang has been working construction jobs in South Korea for about eight years (VOA/Jason Strother). Kim Young-hwang has been working construction jobs in South Korea for about eight years (VOA/Jason Strother).
Kim Young-hwang has been working construction jobs in South Korea for about eight years (VOA/Jason Strother).
Kim Young-hwang has been working construction jobs in South Korea for about eight years (VOA/Jason Strother).
Jason Strother
SEOUL - In recent decades, South Korea has relied on migrant labor to help keep its economy running.  The majority of those foreign workers are from northeast China, but ethnically Korean. This year, about 70,000 of these workers will have to return home because their visas are set to expire - a policy that many claim is unfair.

Kim Young-hwang has been working construction jobs in South Korea for about eight years.  The 35-year-old is an ethnic Korean from Harbin, China and sends money back home to support his family.

He says life in South Korea is pretty good. The money he earns here is a lot more than he could earn in China.

But one thing about life here does not sit well with Kim.

He says ethnic Koreans from China, known as Joseonjok, are not treated equally compared with Koreans from other countries.

Kim says ethnic Koreans from wealthy nations like Japan or the U.S., are treated much better.  They can travel back and forth as they like. He says Chinese-Koreans are treated like foreigners from a poor country.

Kim says what is most unfair are the types of visas Joseonjok receive compared to other ethnic Koreans.

Korean-Americans for example are granted working visas that are renewable every few years.  But Koreans from China are only allowed to stay in South Korea for five years then must return home. 

This year, the visas of 70,000 Joseonjok are set to expire.

And many do not want to go back to China, says Kim Sook-ja, who runs an advocacy group for other Joseonjok like herself.  She says it will be very hard for them to make a living there.

She says, most of the Joseonjok here already sold their homes or businesses back in China and have no work to do there.  And based on the current exchange rate, Korean money they saved just does not go as far as it used to in China.    

Some analysts say that while South Korea’s immigration policy might seem unfair to Joseonjok, it is an economic necessity.

"There is the possibility of these Joseonjok taking jobs from many Korean people.  There are much more job opportunities for the Joseonjok especially in unskilled jobs," says Park Young-bum, who lectures at Seoul’s Hansung University.

He says there is the possibility that they will take jobs away from Korean people. He says there are more opportunities for the Joseonjok, especially in unskilled jobs.

Park adds that under South Korean immigration law, foreigners that stay for five years are able to apply for citizenship.  And that could cause public resentment.

Joseonjok already have a tarnished reputation after one immigrant was involved in a high profile murder of a South Korean woman earlier this year.

Advocate Kim Sook-ja says the incident has caused a backlash against the entire community.

"It is a shame that one person can ruin the image for 600,000 other Joseonjok," Kim says. "Many South Koreans have since looked down on us as a group. They do not consider us as Koreans like them."

She says her organization is trying to help bridge the gap between South Koreans and Joseonjok.

Kim Young-hwang says he too has felt more discrimination in recent months. But it has not effected his desire to stay in South Korea. His visa expires in August and he is now studying for a test that could allow him to switch to a more permanent visa if he passes.

Kim says he is really worried about going back to China. He has gotten used to living here and it will be difficult to find a job.

Kim says if he does have to go back, then he will just apply for another 5-year work visa and do it all over again.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs