OMNES : The Journal of multicultural society

Current Issue

OMNES: The Journal of Multicultural Society - Vol. 14 , No. 1

[ Article ]
OMNES: The Journal of Multicultural Society - Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 1-41
ISSN: 2093-5498 (Print)
Print publication date 31 Jul 2023
Received 27 Sep 2022 Revised 24 Dec 2022 Accepted 24 Jul 2023

From Legal Immigrants to Undocumented Workers: A Case Study of Vietnamese Migration Families in South Korea
Thi Thanh Lan Nguyen* ; Van Cuong Nguyen ; Natalie Thibault ; Julia Jiwon Shin
*Department of Liberal Arts, Wonkwang University, South Korea
*Department of Korean Studies, Phenikaa University, Hanoi, Vietnam
Department of Nursing, Hanyang University, South Korea
Department of Liberal Arts, Wonkwang University, South Korea
Chonnam National University


This qualitative study aims to explore the reasons and realities of legal immigrants who participate in large numbers in the undocumented workforce of South Korea. Applying the theory of push-pull factors of migration, the study distinguishes illegal immigrants from legal immigrants who work without legal permission (undocumented workers). Through the analysis of the process of becoming undocumented workers, as well as individual experiences, the study highlights that the main reasons that family members of migrant families engage in illegal work are not only financial struggles related to family support, debts, or remittances to Vietnam, but the factors of migration networks, employers, and institutional policies. The findings reveal that low wages, long working hours, and discrimination are realities immigrants face in the process of working without a permit in South Korea.

Keywords: undocumented workers, family migration, network, Vietnam, South Korea, push-pull factors

1. American Public Health Association & American Academy of Pediatrics. (2011). Caring for our children: National health and safety performance standards. Elk Grove Village, American Academy of Pediatrics.
2. Andorra, B. (2001). Immigration: Registry as means of obtaining lawful permanent residence. Congressional Research Service. The Library of Congress.
3. Arango, J. (2002). Explaining migration: A critical view, International Social Science journal, 52(165): 283-296.
4. Black, R.(2003). BreakingtheConvention:Researchingthe“illegal”migrationofrefugeesto Europe. Antipode,35:34-54.
5. Chen, P. Y. (2006). Cross-cultural marriage between Taiwan and Vietnam: Issues, controversies, and implication. Paper for the international workshop: cross-national marriage in the globalization era, Ho Chi Minh.
6. DeGenova, N.P.(2002). Migrant “illegality” and deportabilityi neveryday life.Annual Review ofAnthropology, 31:419-447.
7. De Haas, H. (2010). Migration and development: A theoretical perspective.
8. Dustmann, C., & Glitz, A. C. E. (2005). Immigration, jobs, and wages: Theory, evidence and opinion, discovery, Retrieved from
9. Dustmann, C., & Mestres, J. (2010). Remittances and temporary migration. Journal of Development Economics, 92(1): 62-70.
10. Dwyer, J. (2004). Illegal immigrants, health care, and social responsibility. The Hastings Center Report, 34(1), 34.
11. General Statistics Office of Vietnam: Goss, J., & Lindquist, B. (1995). Conceptualizing internationall abormi gration: A structuration perspective.InternationalMigrationReview,29(2):317-351.
12. International Organization for Migration. (2011). Glossary on migration (International Migration Law Series No. 25). Geneva: IOM. A vailable from: (Accessedon1 August 2018).
13. Kim, H.J. (2007). Cross-border marriages between Vietnamese women and Korean men: The reality and problems,a view from Vietnam. Dong-A Research, 52(1): 219-253.
14. Kim, J. J., & Don Tajaroensuk, D. (2018). The construction of migrant illegality: The case of Thai migrant workers in South Korea. Research Group for Global Korean Business Culture.
15. Kim, Y. (2014). A study on forced eviction and protection of illegal foreigners( Master’s thesis).
16. Kim, Y. S., Jeong, H. S., & Lee, J. S. (2015).
17. Korea Immigration Service. (2015). KIS statistics Retrieved 4 15, 2016, from
18. Lee, B.-C. (2011). Measures to improve the problem of illegal immigrant workers (Master’s thesis).
19. Lucas, R.E.B., & Stark,O. (1985). Motivations to remit: Evidence from Botswana. Journal of Political Economy, 93(5), 901-018.
20. Ma Massey, D.S., Arango, J., Hugo, G., Kouaouci, A., Pellegrino, A., & Taylor, J. E. (1993). Theories of international migration: A review and appraisal. Population and Development Review, 19(3): 432-466.
21. Menjivar, C., & Salcido, O. (2002). Immigrant women and domestic violence: Common experiences in different countries.
22. Ministry of Justice. (2021). Immigration statistics, accessed on
23. Nguyen, T. T. L. (Nguyen, T. T. L. (2020).
24. Nguyen, T. T. L., Krieger, D. A. L., Nguyen, V. C., & Shin, J. J. (2022). The family migration of Vietnamese students in Korea. OMNES, 12(1), 25–61.
25. Nguyen, T. T. L., & Nguyen, V. C. (2022). Impact of COVID-19 on Vietnamese migrants in Korea.OMNES, 12(2), 1–25.
26. Nguyen, T. T. L., & Yim, Y. E .(2017). A study on the influence of Vietnam’s network characteristics on their immigration life. Humanities Society 21, 8(4), 671-692.
27. RPark, S.-S.(2017). Job brokers nabbed for bringing 500 foreigners into Korea on forged documents.The Korean Times, retrieved
28. Pham, L. H. T. (2015). Vietnamese student mobility and preparation for overseas education (Bachelor’s thesis). Degree Program in International Business.
29. Pham, T. H. T., Kim, Y.-S.,& Park, B. S. (2014). A study on the children care experiences of Vietnamese marriage immigrant women. Journal of Education and Culture, 20(4): 137-164.
30. United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Workplace violence, accessed on 3 Sep; 2021.
31. World population:,
32. Yonhap News Agency. (2019, October 6). S. Korea to tighten regulations on illegal immigrants’ departures.Retrieved from

Biographical Note

Thi Thanh Lan, Nguyen Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Architectural Engineering, Wonkwang University, South Korea, and at the Department of Korean Studies of Phenikaa University, Vietnam. She holds a Ph.D. in International Studies from Chonnam National University, a Master’s Degree in International Development Studies from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, and a Master’s Degree in Vietnamese Studies from Vietnam National University. She has pursued additional specializations in international migration, ethnic and Multicultural studies, gender, human rights, international relations, and East Asianommunities and diaspora. Her current research focuses on International Migrations (Illegal Workers, International Students, Immigration Women and Children, Family migration, and the Mental Health of Immigrants) and Ethnic Communities in South Korea and the U.S. E-mail: or

Van Cuong Nguyen Ph.D., Researcher, College of Medicine, Hanyang University, South Korea. Email:

Natalie Thibault Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Liberal Arts, Wonkwang University, South Korea. Email:

Junia Jiwon Shin. Ph.D., Associate Professor, Chonnam National University, South Korea and University at Albany, State University of New York, U.S. E-mail: