Multicultural Policy: From Assimilation to Harmonization

by Samsung Economic Research Institute , 10/06/2012

I. Toward a Multiethnic Society: The April 2012 National Assembly elections saw the first ethnic minority candidate, Jasmine Lee, become a lawmaker. Lee was born and raised in the Philippines, married a Korean and became a naturalized Korean. Her election underscored the rising presence and participation of married migrants in Korean society. Their increasing number clearly illustrates how Korea is changing from a homogeneous society.

The number of multiethnic families -- married immigrants, their spouse and children -- reached 550,000 in 2011, up from 340,000 in 2008. Over the same period, the number of married immigrants increased to 210,000 from 150,000, while that of their children surged from 60,000 to 150,000, a 161% increase. Government projections show that the number of people constituting multiethnic families will reach 1 million by 2020, and the proportion of multicultural families in Korea's total population will increase to 1.9% from 1% in 2011. replica watches

Despite this increasing shift to a multiethnic society, much of emphasis of Korea's policy is still on foreigners' assimilation into Korean culture, rather than accepting the cultural identity of their native country. Care should be taken in measures particularly as many European powers, including France and Germany, that had experienced multiculturalism ahead of Korea and promoted various related policies, say their policy of multiculturalism has failed.

This SERI (Samsung Economic Research Institute) paper analyzes the current state of Korea's policy toward migrants and its outlook, and offers policy directions, focusing on a mix of measures that maximize the advantages of multiculturalism and reduce the disadvantages to achieve sustained social stability.

II. The Current Status of Multiethnic Families and Policies
1. Low income and low-skill jobs: Income of multiethnic families is relatively low, with 60% of them earning less than 2 million won a month. In particular, the education level and job experience that married immigrants had before coming to Korea are not effectively linked to relevant jobs here. With many only suited for low-skilled jobs, their financial health is fragile.

2. Negative public perception: Generally, Korean society is not ready to fully embrace cultural diversity yet. According to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, 36% of Korean people are positive to cultural coexistence, significantly lower than 74% in European countries. This has led to social and emotional hardships for multiethnic families. With crimes committed by foreigners on the rise and stoking xenophobic views, there are concerns that the animosity will extend to multicultural families.

3. Slow adaptation to society: Children in multiethnic families often experience socio-psychological problems. Many come from unstable, financially weak households and children often face discrimination at schools, passive personal relations and identity confusion. Consequently, their school attendance is far lower than that of ordinary Korean children. As of February 2012, the entrance rate of children from multicultural families in elementary schools was 60%, middle schools 40% and high schools 30%.

Lack of cultural understanding between married immigrants and their Korean spouses also often lead to slow adaptation of migrants to Korean society and marital friction. The divorce rate of married immigrants rose seven-fold in the past decade, leading to an increasing number of migrants who lose their legal status.

4. Policy status: The Korean government's "Basic Plan for Policy Support of Multicultural Families (2010-2012)" focuses on support for families, management of international marriage brokering, and promoting social understanding of multiculturalism. However, it is beginning to show its limitations, as can be seen in the multicultural family policy budget of 210.4 billion won, which is primarily earmarked for immigrant wives and their children. The importance of social integration has become increasingly noticeable, and government agencies other than the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family are now operating various programs. However, there is still insufficient coordination between agencies.

III. Policy Direction: From Assimilation to Harmonization
To resolve issues surrounding multiethnic families, it is necessary above all to increase acceptance and inclusion of married immigrants, while recognizing the cultural identity of their native country, rather than demanding that they unilaterally assimilate into Korean culture.

To this end, government policy must change from its existing focus on assimilation toward one that pursues harmony. The core of this policy would be opportunities to promote understanding and increase acceptance of multiculturalism so immigrants and their families can live and participate in their local community.

To minimize difficulties of multiethnic families that arise in the process of their initial adaptation to Korean society, tailored support for each family must be strengthened. At the same time, acceptance of multiculturalism by Koreans could be raised through social and cultural programs. If this is achieved, policy effectiveness will be improved because the side effects of multiculturalism will be reduced.

Five tasks to reach policy goals are as follows. The first task involves supporting multicultural activities and events to establish them as permanent cultural assets. A leading example of this is the Caribbean Carnival in Toronto, Canada. It was begun in 1967 by Caribbean immigrants during the centennial celebration of Canada's founding. Approximately 1.2 million people now visit during the Carnival, annually generating more than US$400 million for the economy.

The second task involves building a new class of consumers by strengthening the self-supporting capabilities of immigrant spouses. This will require not only connecting job training and work, but also developing specialized products using the cultural experience and knowledge that only immigrants have. For example, the Industrial Bank of Korea has developed products tailored for multiethnic households. The bank offers a customized check card for married immigrants, waiving commission fees and giving preferential interest rates to them. The bank also maintains open hiring of immigrant wives for interpretation, etc., and has received favorable response from multiethnic families.

Equal educational opportunities for children of multiethnic families are also crucial. Establishing an integrated education system consisting of schools, households and the local community and providing related consulting is also a desirable path. For example, Harvard University devised a "complementary learning" program for children of minorities. With participation of teachers and parents, as well as kindergartens, health centers, private education institutes and local welfare centers, the program provides comprehensive consulting needed from kindergarten to university graduation.

The fourth task is strengthening mental health services for multiethnic households. Treatment and counseling can be provided in connection with local mental health centers for the members of multiethnic families who have experienced discrimination or social maladjustment. Australia's social service centers actively use "multicultural case managers," who have attended classes related to multiculturalism and are certified to provide information helpful to immigrant families in their native tongue.

The fifth task involves the creation of new jobs and value-added in local society. This is intended to support the social and economic activities of immigrants. Social enterprises and cooperatives for multiethnic households can be fostered to this end. Creation of new valued-added in agriculture services and products sectors where the characteristics and abilities of immigrants can be displayed is another desirable course.

Building a multicultural society in which everyone is happy will clearly not be an easy task. It is, however, necessary as movement of labor between countries will only increase, and multicultural policies will only become more important.

K4E:  For the full article with graphs and stats, visit Samsung Economic Research Institute. Note that you will have to register to access the reports.

Image Source: Jasime Lee


IGVC-Korean Language Classes, Classes from 05 Oct 2021 /  Online from Yongsan-gu, SeoulSome classes still have space for late registration - Does not apply to Absolute Beginner Classes.
SGVC - Online Korean History Lecture Series, 28 Sept-2 Nov 2021, SeoulThe lectures will be conducted in English by Pr. David A. Mason
AMCHAM-U.S. Embassy Webinar: Telehealth in Korea, 10 Sept 2021, from SeoulWebinar to help you navigate the landscape of tele-health in Korea
SGVC - Séance d'orientation en ligne, 7 sept 2021, via ZoomAstuces de la vie quotidienne à Seoul - en français
JZ Associate
Dwight School Seoul, English Pre-School-High School, Seoul
Seoul Foreign School, K-12 English School, Seodaemun, Seoul
Korea International School-KIS, PK-12 English, Pangyo, Gyeonggi-do
A Plus Apgugeong - 27 May 2020
I want to convert
Helpul telephone numbers seoul korea
Cocoonfice, Business Center, Gangnam-gu, Seoul