Sunday, 14 July 2024 09:23

More Immigration Needed to Bolster Korean Workforce, Study Says

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

South Korea might need as many as 15 million immigrants—equivalent to a third of its current population–by 2060 to make up for a shrinking workforce and sustain growth, according to a Seoul-based private think tank.

The report, released Monday by the Korea Economic Research Institute, describes a demographic profile quite different from present-day South Korea, which is a highly homogeneous society where immigrants constitute just 3% of the nation’s 50 million people.

South Korea’s population is currently growing but is widely expected to begin decreasing in coming years because of a low birth rate, which–together with its rapidly aging population—could reduce the nation’s workforce and undermine its growth potential.

The KERI report says the country needs 605,000 immigrants in 2020, 4.3 million in 2030, 11.8 million in 2050 and 15.3 million in 2060 to prevent the labor force from shrinking.

The number of immigrants in South Korea has grown just marginally in recent years, with 1.6 million arriving in 2013, compared with 1.1 million in 2007. 

The impact of the country’s low birth rate is reflected in its shrinking young population.

Government data show South Korea’s total workforce—aged between 15 to 64–is likely to peak at 37 million in 2016 before declining to 33 million in 2030, 29 million in 2040, 25 million in 2050 and 22 million in 2060. This forecast parallels expectations for the nation’s total population to decline from 52 million in 2030 to 51 million in 2040, 48 million in 2050 and 44 million in 2060.

South Korea’s fertility rate—the average number of children born to a woman in her lifetime—stood at 1.19 in 2013, among the world’s lowest. Officials in Seoul say the rate should hover around 2.1 in order to maintain the current population.

“We have no alternative but to take in more immigrants to sustain growth,” said KERI senior economist Cho Gyeong-lyeob.

Mr. Cho, a co-author of the KERI report, emphasized that immigration would be the only viable option for South Korea to sustain growth, barring unification with North Korea and its 25 million people, an unlikely prospect in the foreseeable future.

“A more bold immigration policy is a strong option here, but a closed mind is a major stumbling block,” Mr. Cho said.

There hasn’t yet been a substantial political push for a bolder immigration policy in South Korea.

As of June 2014, 1.7 million immigrants lived in South Korea. Of those, 590,000—including 70,000 who are undocumented–were part of the workforce.

The Wall Street Journal

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