This review of Korea’s labour migration policy is the ninth of a series conducted by the OECD Secretariat as a follow-up to the 2009 High Level Policy Forum on International Migration. The rationale for this initiative was the recent growth in labour migration observed in many countries and the likelihood that recourse to labour migration would increase in the context of demographic ageing. Prior to the global economic crisis of the late 2000s, many countries had made substantial changes to labour migration policies with a view to facilitating recruitment from abroad. With the introduction of these changes, more prominence was accorded to the question of their effectiveness, and more broadly to the objectives of labour migration policy in general. Although the economic crisis put a damper on labour migration movements, it did not stop them entirely, and interest in labour migration policy is unlikely to diminish in the near future.

The central objective of labour migration policy is to help meet those labour market needs which cannot be satisfied through tapping domestic labour supply in a reasonable time frame, without adversely affecting the domestic labour market and without hindering development prospects in vulnerable origin countries. Although the objective itself can be easily stated, specifying the criteria for assessing the success of policy in achieving it is a complex matter. It involves evaluating how well labour market needs have been identified and whether migration has had an impact on the labour market, both of which are analytically difficult.

This series of reviews addresses the question of whether labour migration policy is effective in meeting labour market needs without adverse effects, and whether the policy is efficient. To address these questions, this review aims to analyse two key areas: i) the labour migration system and its characteristics, in terms of policies in place and the labour migrants who arrive; and ii) the extent to which it is responding to the current and forecast needs of the domestic labour market, as well as any impact on the latter.

Korea faces a similar discussion as other OECD countries regarding effective labour migration policy, and it is in this context that Korea requested that the OECD review its labour migration policy. The temporary foreign worker programme introduced in Korea in the mid-2000s has led to a significant share of jobs in manufacturing SMEs being taken up by these workers. At the same time, Korea’s globalisation strategy has aimed to attract more high-skilled foreigners and mobile talent, but numbers remain low.

This review asks the question of what should be the role of discretionary labour migration policy in the specific context of the country, given the profound structural changes underway in the Korean labour market and the challenges in ensuring human resources to maintain productivity and social cohesion in the future.

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