Bank of Korea Governor Kim Choong-soo yesterday stressed the need to ease immigration policy and bring more foreign workers to a country whose rapidly aging population poses a serious economic challenge.
Speaking to foreign journalists in Seoul, Kim said Asia’s fourth-largest economy needed to “embrace more migrant workers” in order to drive future growth.
“For instance, the US welcomes 1 million, even up to 2 million immigrants a year, which helps its demographics remain so young and maintain economic vitality,” Kim said.
After years of promoting family planning in a crowded country of 50 million, South Korea has a chronically low birth rate that will halve the size of its youth population by 2060 and decimate its workforce.
One obvious way out was the adoption of “more future-oriented and open immigration policies,” Kim said. “By doing so we will be able to utilize these workers ... in the right places of the economy and retain social vitality at the same time.”
By 2050, South Koreans aged 60 years or older will account for 39 percent of the population, up from 17 percent last year, data from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs show.
South Korea’s fertility rate — the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime — stood at just 1.01 in 2011, compared with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average of 1.71.
With South Koreans increasingly shunning low-paying manual jobs, Seoul in 2004 adopted legislation allowing companies to hire manual workers from 15 countries — mostly Southeast Asia. As of last year, more than 500,000 registered migrant workers — mostly from China and Southeast Asia — were working in the country.
Once an economic juggernaut that grew nearly 7 percent a year on average since the end of the Korean War in 1953, South Korea has in recent years entered a phase of more measured growth.
The economy is expected to grow 2.8 percent this year after expanding 2 percent last year, Kim said.