Why, in recent years, has the South Korean government introduced various changes in its immigration policy, diverging from a long history of relative closure toward foreign workers in the East Asian region? While existing studies on labor migration utilize pluralistic models of interest aggregation and competition, examining the preferences of different domestic groups such as firms, native labor, and foreign-born immigrants, immigration has long remained underpoliticized in South Korea. Indeed, until the 2000s, the central government maintained strict policies banning the import of foreign labor, overruling other important economic or environmental factors such as sector-specific needs or a shrinking domestic workforce due to an aging population. In this article, I argue that a new political framing of immigration, made possible through a shifting domestic political context in which global human rights norms became more salient, led to important policy changes in the past decade. The South Korean case suggests that globalization has led to greater acceptance of foreign workers, less as a result of economic pressures but rather the pull of global standards, based on the Korean yearning for segyehwa (to become global) and becoming an “advanced” nation.


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pp. 377-402
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