Sookmyung Institute for Multicultural Studies

Current Issue

OMNES: The Journal of Multicultural Society - Vol. 8 , No. 1

[ Article ]
OMNES: The Journal of Multicultural Society - Vol. 8, No. 1, pp.1-32
ISSN: 2093-5498 (Print)
Print publication date 31 Jul 2017
Received 21 Apr 2017 Reviewed 24 Apr 2017 Accepted 29 May 2017

Migration Transition in South Korea: Features and Factors
Gyuchan Kim


South Korea has transformed itself into a dominantly migrant-receiving country over the last three decades. Korea makes an important case in studying migration transition due to the high speed of migration growth and diversifying patterns of migration. This paper identifies the patterns of migration growth in Korea and analyzes various contributing factors from both migrant sending and receiving countries’ perspectives. It was found that labor migrants, un-skilled in particular, are the largest contributor to the growth and family migrants, notably female marriage migrants, have been increasingly important. On top of that, ethnic Korean migrants are significant in both the labor and family migration routes. The factor analysis shows that labor market conditions, in terms of higher income and wider job opportunity, in the destination are the strongest driver, but the actual migration flows are not fully explained by economic disparities. Rather, migration flows to Korea, either economic migration or non-economic migration, are influenced by a complex interplay of push, pull, and network factors on the state, family and individual level. However, in all cases the state’s policy considerations and settings have played, and will continue to play, a pivotal role in determining the scale and patterns of migration transition in Korea.

Keywords: migration transition, push-pull factors, labor migration, marriage migration, co-ethnic migration

1. Abella, M. I., (1993), Labor mobility, trade and structural change: The Philippine experience, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, 2(3), p249-68.
2. Abella, M. I., (2014), Foreign workers and labour shortages in East Asia: Implications for the EU, Comparative Immigration and Integration Program, Institute of European Studies, University of California, Berkeley, Retrieved from
3. Athukorala, P-C., (2006), International labour migration in East Asia: Trends, patterns and policy issues, Asian‐Pacific Economic Literature, 20(1), p18-39.
4. Cangiano, A., and Shutes, I., (2010), Ageing, demand for care and the role of migrant care workers in the UK, Journal of Population Ageing, 3(1-2), p39-57.
5. Castles, S., (1998), Globalization and migration: some pressing contradictions, International Social Science Journal, 50(156), p179-86.
6. Castles, S., (2000), The impacts of emigration on countries of origin, In S. Yusuf, W. Wu, & S. Evenett (Eds.), Local Dynamics in an era of globalization, p45-56, New York, Oxford University Press.
7. Castles, S., (2004), Why migration policies fail, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 27(2), p205-27.
8. Castles, S., and Miller, M. J., (2009), The Age of migration: International population movements in the modern world, (4th ed.), Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.
9. Chung, K., Kang, D.-K., Kim, S., Seol, D. H., and Lee, K.-Y., (2010), 2010 Survey on foreign residents, Korea Immigration Service, Ministry of Justice of Korea, Retrieved from
10. Chung, K., Kim, S., Ko, J-Y, Lee, K-y, Lee, H. K., Lee, C-R, Lee, C-W., and Choi, S., (2013), 2013 Survey on foreign residents: Economic and social lives of Migrants entering via the employment permit system or the working visit programme, Korea Immigration Service, Ministry of Justice of Korea, Retrieved from
11. Cohen, R., and Kennedy, P. M., (2000), Global sociology, Basingstoke, Palgrave.
12. Debrah, Y. A., (2002), Introduction: migrant workers in Pacific Asia, Asia Pacific Business Review, 8(4), p1-18.
13. Fields, G. S., (1994), The migration transition in Asia, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, 3(1), p7-30.
14. Findlay, A. M., Jones, H., Davidson, M., and Gillian, M., (1998), Migration transition or migration transformation in the Asian dragon economies?, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 22(4), p643-663.
15. Freeman, C., (2011), Making and faking kinship: Marriage and labor migration between China and South Korea, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press.
16. Geiger, M., and Pecoud, A., (2013), Migration, development and the ‘migration-development nexus', Population, Space and Place, 19, p369-74.
17. Gwak, J-S., (2012), Compatriot policy of inclusion and exclusion and challenges, The Journal of Multicultural Society, 5(1), p33-73.
18. Held, D., McGrew, A., Goldblatt, D., and Perraton, J., (1999), Global transformations: politics, economics and culture, Cambridge, UK, Polity Press.
19. Hollifield, J. F., (2004), The emerging migration state, International Migration Review, 38(3), p885-912.
20. Hollifield, J. F., Martin, P., and Orrenius, P., (2014), Controlling immigration: A global perspective, (3rd ed.), Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press.
21. Hujo, K., and Piper, N., (2007), South–south migration: Challenges for development and social policy, Development, 50, p19-45.
22. Jeon, H-K., (2012), Transnational migrations and the roles of the nation state: the Korean case of female marriage migrants, Journal of North-East Asian Studies, 63(1), p283-310.
23. Kim, A. E., (2009), Global migration and South Korea: foreign workers, foreign brides and the making of a multicultural society, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 32(1), p70-92.
24. Kim, E. M., and Kang, J. S., (2007), Seoul as a global city with ethnic villages, Korea Journal, 47(4), p64-99.
25. Kim, G., and Kilkey, M., (2016), Marriage Migration Policy as a Social Reproduction System: The South Korean Experience, In M. Kilkey, and E. Palenga-Möllenbeck (Eds.), Family Life in an Age of Migration and Mobility: Global Perspectives through the Life Course, p137-161, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.
26. Kim, J., Yang, S-B., and Torneo, A., (2014), Marriage immigration and multicultural families: public policies and their implications for the Philippines and South Korea, Asian Politics & Policy, 6(1), p97-119.
27. Korea, Republic of. IPC, (2012), The 2nd basic plan for immigration policy: 2013-2017, Korea Immigration Service, Ministry of Justice of Korea, Retrieved from
28. Korea, Republic of. IPC. Korea Immigration Service, (2014), Statistical monthly report (January 2014), Korea Immigration Service, Ministry of Justice of Korea, Retrieved from
29. Korea, Republic of. IPC. Korea Immigration Service, (2015), Statistical monthly report (December 2014), Korea Immigration Service, Ministry of Justice of Korea, Retrieved from
30. Korea, Republic of. IPC. Korea Immigration Service, (2016), Statistical monthly report (December 2015), Korea Immigration Service, Ministry of Justice of Korea, Retrieved from
31. Korea, Republic of. IPC. Korea Immigration Service, (various years), Immigration yearbook Korea Immigration Service, Ministry of Justice of Korea, Retrieved from
32. Korea, Republic of. IPC. Korea Immigration Service. Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, (2012), The 2nd basic plan for multicultural family policy: 2013-2017, Ministry of Gender Equality and Family of Korea, Retrieved from
33. Le, D. B., Truong, T-D., and Khuat, T. H., (2014), Transnational marriage migration and the East Asian family-based welfare model: Social reproduction in Vietnam, Taiwan, and South Korea, In T-D. Truong, D. Gasper, J. Handmaker, & S.I. Bergh (Eds.), Migration, Gender and Social Justice, p87-103, Heidelberg, Springer.
34. Lee, G-Y., Lee, S-R., Park, S-J., and No, Y-J., (2011), Migrant labour market analysis, 2011-05, Korea Labour Institute, Retrieved from
35. Lee, H., (2012), Political economy of cross-border marriage: Economic development and social reproduction in Korea, Feminist Economics, 18(2), p177-200.
36. Lim, T. C., (2002), The changing face of South Korea:The emergence of Korea as a ‘land of immigration’, The Korea Society Quarterly, 3(2-3), p16-21.
37. Lucas, R. E. B., (2005), International migration and economic development: Lessons from low-income countries, Cheltenham, UK, Edward Elgar.
38. Martin, P., (2009), Migration in the Asia-Pacific region: Trends, factors, impacts, Human Development Research Paper, 32, United Nations Development Programme, Retrieved from
39. Park, S., (2011), Korean multiculturalism and the marriage squeeze, Contexts, 10(3), p64-65.
40. Park, Y-B., (2000), Unskilled foreign labor and Korea's economic crisis, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, 9(4), p483-506.
41. Patterson, L., Bae, S. O., and Lim, J. Y., (2013), Gender equality in Korean firms: Recent evidence from HR practitioners, Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 51(3), p364-381.
42. Patterson, L., and Walcutt, B., (2014), Explanations for continued gender discrimination in South Korean workplaces, Asia Pacific Business Review, 20(1), p18-41.
43. Piper, N., (2004), Rights of foreign workers and the politics of migration in South-East and East Asia, International Migration, 42(5), p71-97.
44. Piper, N., and Roces, M. (Eds.), (2003), Wife or worker? Asian women and migration, Lanham, Md., Rowman & Littlefield.
45. Sanderson, M. R., (2013), Does immigration promote long-term economic development? A global and regional cross-national analysis, 1965– 2005, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 39(1), p1-30.
46. Seol, D-H., (2000), Past and present of foreign workers in Korea 1987-2000, Asia Solidarity Quarterly, 2, p6-31.
47. Seol, D-H., (2006), Women marriage immigrants in Korea: immigration process and adaptation, Ataeyungunondan (Korean), 33, p32-59.
48. Seol, D-H., and Skrentny, J. D., (2009), Why is there so little migrant settlement in East Asia?, International Migration Review, 43(3), p578-620.
49. Statistics Korea, (2008), Social survey: Attitudes on marriage with a foreigner, Statistics Korea, Retrieved from
50. Statistics Korea, (2014a), Population projections, Statistics Korea, Retrieved from
51. Statistics Korea, (2014b), Population trend: International marriages, Statistics Korea, Retrieved from
52. Statistics Korea, (2014c), Social survey: Attitudes on marriage with a foreigner, Statistics Korea, Retrieved from
53. Taylor, E. J., (1999), The new economics of labour migration and the role of remittances in the migration process, International Migration, 37(1), p63-88.
54. UN-DESA, (2015), Trends in international migrant stock: The 2015 revision, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Retrieved from
55. Yamanaka, K., and Piper, N., (2005), Feminized migration in East and Southeast Asia: Policies, actions and empowerment, Occasional Paper No.11, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Retrieved from
56. Yonhap News, (2014), Yanbian in turmoil, 14 January, Retrieved from
57. Yoo, K-S., and Lee, G-Y., (2002), Employment status of foreign workers and policy challenges in Korea, 2002-09, Korea Labour Institute, Retrieved from
58. Yoon, I-J., (2008), The development and characteristics of multiculturalism in South Korea: With a focus on the relationship of the state and civil society, Korean Journal of Sociology, 42(2), p72-103.