Long portrayed as an ethnically pure and homogenous nation-state—the quintessential “historical nation”—it has generally been taken for granted that South Korea was immune to the processes of global migration. Beginning in the late 1980s, however, the barriers to large-scale migration began to break down. The reason is easy enough to discern: after decades of rapid and sustained industrialization, combined with a continuous increase in economic wealth, severe labor shortages started to appear in certain segments of the Korean economy. The demand for foreign labor, in short, overcame Korean fears of an “ethnic invasion.” Despite this, many observers assume that the country is still immune to the deeper political, cultural, and social changes that increasing in-migration typically bring. In particular, many believe that South Korea will avoid becoming a country of immigration. In this article, I challenge this view. I argue that the processes of migration tend to unfold in a broadly similar, but not exact manner in different countries—including in South Korea—regardless of their unique social, institutional, political, and cultural circumstances.


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pp. 28-55
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