In 2020, Korea received 54 000 new immigrants on a long-term or permanent basis (including changes of status), -28.2% compared to 2019. This figure comprises 2.5% labour migrants, 38.9% family members (including accompanying family) and 0.4% humanitarian migrants. Around 28 000 permits were issued to tertiary-level international students and 49 000 to temporary and seasonal labour migrants.

China, Viet Nam and the United States were the top three nationalities of newcomers in 2020. Among the top 15 countries of origin, the United States registered the strongest increase (500) and Thailand the largest decrease (-44 000) in flows to Korea compared to the previous year.

In 2021, the number of first asylum applicants decreased by -65.1% to reach around 2 300. The majority of applicants came from China (300), Bangladesh (230) and Nigeria (160). The largest increase since 2020 concerned nationals of Myanmar (40) and the largest decrease nationals of Russia (-1 000). Of the 11 000 decisions taken in 2021, 1% were positive.

In 2021, reforms in labour migration policy were made to address sectoral labour shortages under the COVID-19 pandemic. In November 2021, limits on daily and weekly entries of Employment Permit System (EPS) workers were lifted and the Korea resumed issuing EPS permits in “high-risk” countries. The restrictions had led annual entries of EPS workers to drop to 6-7 000 in 2020 and 2021, while the total number of E-9 workers fell from 252 100 in May 2020 to 216 600 in May 2021. The number of H-2 workers fell from 160 500 to 122 800 over the same period, although this was largely due to a corresponding increase in permanent residents (F-4 and F-5).

Admission quotas for E-9 workers in 2022 were set at 59 000, primarily for manufacturing (44 500). Foreign workers are subject to ten days of quarantine in government-run facilities upon arrival regardless of vaccination.

The amended Employment of Foreign Workers Act affected the EPS in October 2021. H-2 workers are now allowed to work in the mining sector. For E-9 and H-2 workers granted a four-year and ten-month extension, the minimum period abroad before re-entry was reduced from three to one month, and it now requires four years and ten months employment in the same sector rather than workplace.

The Korean Government introduced a number of visa extensions. Initially these responded to the difficulty of visiting offices in person, or of departing during the pandemic. Later, extensions compensated for fewer entries of foreign workers by extending the stay of those already present. In 2021, extensions were granted for three-month periods. In December 2021, about 40 000 EPS workers with permits expiring before 12 April 2022 were granted a one-year extension. In March 2022, an additional 130 000 workers with permits expiring between 13 April and 31 December 2022 were granted a one-year extension. Those who have already been granted a one-year extension received an additional 50 days.

The Social Integration programme was modified to count COVID-19 vaccination and testing as training hours, as well as online classes under Gyeonggi province’s free Korean language training.

Exceptional temporary residence and work permits for foreign residents stranded in Korea due to political unrest in origin countries are available for Burmese, Afghans and Ukrainians from March and August 2021 and February 2022 respectively. Amendments to the Enforcement Decree of the Immigration Control Act in October 2021 allow foreigners with exceptional contributions to the Korean Government (e.g. Afghan Special Contributors) to receive an F-2 residence visa. Also, Korean Ukrainians and families of Ukrainian residents in Korea can apply for a fast-track visa from any Korean Embassy since March 2022.

In April 2021, a regularisation regarding unregistered children of irregular foreign residents was introduced for those born in Korea and who have lived for 15 years or more, running until February 2025. Children can stay in the country with a D-4 visa until completing their upper secondary education, accompanied by their parents.

For further information: www.eps.go.kr | www.immigration.go.kr | www.kostat.go.kr

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