UPDATE: A commenters takes issue with ZenKimchi’s quote, namely, the part about “the only way to be a long-term resident is to have Korean DNA, marry a Korean, or invest $100,000 to open a business.” Fair enough—there’s the point-based F-2 visa. Granted, by late 2011—a year and eight months after the program went into effect—only 155 people had gotten point-based F-2s (out of a population of over 128,000 who were eligible) in part thanks to poor promotion that one article suggested might not be unintentional. Said commenters suggests the numbers have improved with 165 getting F-2-7s and 655 getting F2-99 (“that’s the visa that is given out with 5 years continuous living, also requires zero money investment and no marriage to a Korean”). I’m sure things are improving, although I’ll let you decide for yourself what that those numbers mean in a country of 50 million people with a resident foreigner population of 1.4 million. For that matter, feel free to download the latest immigration stats and decide for yourself what those numbers mean, too.
UPDATE: Twitter K. Slothus (blog here) notes:
From the report:
The Survey is carried out among chief executive officers and top business leaders in all economies covered by our research; these are the people making the investment decisions in their respective economies. The Survey provides unique data on many qualitative institutional and business environment issues, as well as specific issues related to the T&T industry and the quality of the natural environment.
Doesn’t sound like a very wide group surveyed.
The World Economic Forum apparently compiled numbers on how welcoming nations are to foreign visitors. The WaPo also kind enough to map it, the result you can see here.
Sit down for this—Korea placed near the bottom of the list. Like 129th out of 140, tied with China, Saudi Arabia, Mongolia, Bulgaria and Slovakia.
On the bright side, Korea did beat out Pakistan and Iran, so it wasn’t a total loss. And with a bit of work, they can reach the level of legendarily foreigner-friendly Chad.
Japan placed 74th, which suggests you can run a restrictive immigration policy and still be considered friendly as long as you smile and women in service professions speak with high-pitched voices.
The WaPo’s Max Fisher was a bit surprised, but he thinks nationalism might have something to do with it:
One thing I’m struck by, in trying to puzzle out this map, is the apparent correlation between unfriendliness to foreigners and nationalism. That would maybe help to explain the low ratings for China and South Korea (although there are other possible factors here, including race) and for Russia. It might also help to explain why the United States, Germany and Japan — three countries with strongly nationalist histories — rank below other wealthy nations.
The nationalism theory makes a bit more sense when we look region-to-region. In Latin America, for example, a region generally friendly to foreigners, three countries stand out: Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela. All three have governments that could be fairly described as nationalistic. It also makes some sense in the Middle East, where Saudi Arabia and Iran rank poorly among countries that generally court foreign tourism.
To be honest, one of the reasons I think the numbers are so low is because the question, “How welcome are foreign visitors to your country?” seems to have been directed at Koreans themselves. And yes, you’ll often hear Koreans talk about how welcoming they are to visitors—something I don’t think is necessarily untrue, BTW—and from time to time you’ll find a “foreigners love Korea” pep-talk story in the press, but Koreans know they lag behind the West in the multiculti department—something I don’t think is necessarily bad, BTW—and that their society remains somewhat provincial.
That said, sure, the low numbers are probably earned, and yeah, nationalism probably has a lot to do with it. I don’t think Korea is an especially unfriendly place, per se. I was just in Goesan—pretty much as provincial a town as you can get—and folk were really nice (including the 119 rescue personnel who had to help me off a mountain when I fell, screwed up my arm and lost my glasses coming down as it got dark—lovely gentlemen they were). As long as you show respect, you’ll be treated just fine.
The problems really become apparent when you try to settle here for a longer period of time. That’s when you’ve really, really got to work to gain acceptance… or at least find a niche.
For starters, moves by the government to effect some sort of minimal multiculturalism aside, Koreans largely want to keep Korea Korean, and immigration policy reflects this.
Then there’s the questions of connections. Even if you manage to learn the language and understand the culture, you’ll probably still lack the personal connections and social base that Koreans have been building since birth. Nobody knows anything about you—your hometown, your family, your school, nothing. You’re a person without roots.
Even without the additional issue of racism—which you’ll confront, too, with a direct relationship between the level of racism and the concentration of melanin in your skin—it’s a high barrier to overcome. What do you talk about when you go drinking with people who lived through dictatorship and forced-march industrialization? About going to Islanders games when you were a kid?
And yes, there’s the nationalism issue. For the record, I actually like the nationalism. I think it’s great that Koreans take pride in their people, their culture and their history. If anything, I wish this pride were a little deeper—I think you’ll find that like in many post-colonial countries, once you scratch the nationalist surface, you’ll find a lot of self-loathing and “colonization of the mind.” But yeah, some of the cruder expressions of that nationalism can turn foreigners off. I also think the nationalism presents barriers in another way—because it’s based on a national inferiority complex (particular in regards to the West and Japan), there is an assumption that foreigners look down on Koreans. Hence the reactions you sometimes get when you say or write anything critical of anything Korean.
BTW, Joe of Zenkimchi left a very good comment on the WaPo piece:
Having lived in South Korea for nine years, dealing with Immigration headaches, and seeing so many expats come and go, I’m not surprised by its ranking. Historically, Korea has been hostile to outsiders. Even though it talks a lot about opening up to the world, it gets skittish when it becomes a reality. Domestic news cycles go through blaming a different outsider group for their problems (U.S. soldiers, foreign English teachers, Japanese, Chinese-Koreans). The only way to be a long-term resident is to have Korean DNA, marry a Korean, or invest $100,000 to open a business (which is being increased to $300,000). And when a foreigner opens a business outside traditional foreign neighborhoods, I have seen many times other Korean businesses ganging up on it to knock it out of business. Foreign English teachers have to take HIV tests, implying that they’re diseased miscreants to the public.
I have rarely met a multi-generational immigrant, as in someone whose family moved here more than a generation ago. Foreigners tend to only stay for two years. Most people are friendly, but there is also a good bit of harassment and micro-aggressions that wear foreigners down to the point where they end up hating the country and leaving. I’ve been able to handle it, and I still enjoy it, though I have my dark days. But I have seen so many people break down. This isn’t an easy country for a foreigner to live in.