For the past 20 years, Korea has been going through a sort of film “renaissance” after experiencing a golden age in the 1960s and 70s.
South Korea Welcomes New Immigrants, Along with Their Food!
While immigration policy has roiled many governments around the globe, South Korea has taken a different approach, welcoming an influx of international arrivals with open arms. With these new arrivals has come what The Economist calls a “cosmopolitan” flavor that extends past Seoul to other cities to the provinces as well. The number of foreigners living in South Korea has more than doubled over the past decade – from an estimated 1.2 million in 2009 to over 2.4 million as of 2018.
The increased number of immigrants and the diversity they bring is a direct result of government policy attracting new professionals as well as labor to meet the nation’s growing demand. As The Economist wrote, “South Korea, which got rich by exporting its products all over the world, has recently begun to import people.”
This new approach, which has attracted most foreigners to Seoul and its neighbor Gyeonggi, has also included outlying cities throughout the country. One thriving example is Gimhae, a city in the South Gyeongsang province, with a population of about half a million people. Gimhae is now home to a cosmopolitan smorgasbord of restaurants that include Cambodian, Indonesian, Burmese, Vietnamese and even an Uzbek eatery that offer a mix of meat dumplings and post-Soviet décor.
Chun Jung-hee, who serves as Director of the office that provides support to foreign workers, says that 10 years ago, the city had but one Chinese restaurant. She followed by saying that Korea’s approach to recruiting more workers and professionals for the nation went beyond simply attempting to reduce worker shortages. They also strove to provide certain rights and protections to make those foreign workers feel safe and at home.
In a nation that until recently had few international residents, Gimhae locals on a typical weekday morning are vastly outnumbered by those from other parts of Asia.