Number of foreigners studying hits record

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The number of international students coming to Korea jumped nearly 30 percent last year and hit an all-time high.

According to Statistics Korea Thursday, the number of foreigners who entered Korea on student visas reached 53,000 in 2016, up 12,000 from the previous year. It was the highest number since the government started to compile the data in its current form. The figure nearly doubled from 2012’s 27,500.

“The number of foreign students entering the country reached an all-time high and it appears that it grew significantly after the government decided to ease the visa process for international students in 2015,” said Lee Jee-yeon, a director at the agency. In 2015, the government eased regulations on visas for foreign students and allowed them to qualify for health care insurance. The move was meant to attract more foreign talent to the country.

By age group, teens entering the country jumped 26.5 percent, followed by students in their 30s (13.9 percent) and their 20s (9.8 percent).

Korean students, who used to go overseas to get better education during the 2000s, are staying home. The number of teenage Koreans who left the country to study fell from 58,000 in 2007 to 33,000 last year.

“Fewer people are studying abroad at an early age after hitting a peak in 2007,” Lee explained.

The overall number of foreigners coming to Korea also increased. According to the statistics agency, a total of 402,000 foreigners came to Korea last year, up 7.8 percent from the previous year, the second highest after 2014’s 407,000.

Foreigners who came to Korea to work accounted for the most at 31.8 percent, followed by temporary visitors (30.4 percent) and students (13.1 percent). Some 10.5 percent of the foreigners entered Korea for migration or marriage.

The number of foreigners leaving the country also recorded an all-time high of 325,000, up 8 percent from the previous year.

“There are many Chinese workers who entered the country recently but the data showed a significant number of them left Korea as their visas expired last year,” said Lee. “Also the government has announced plans to waive fines for illegal immigrants that voluntarily leave the country so there were many people holding Thai and Russian passports who left.”

BY KIM YOUNG-NAM [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]

From Joongang Daily.