Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said he thinks a greater number of foreigners should be allowed to reside permanently in the capital, contingent upon the formation of a social consensus on the issue and if Korea’s birthrate remains low.
The statement was made in a press conference commemorating the first anniversary of his fourth term as Seoul mayor at City Hall in downtown Seoul on Monday.
During the press conference, Oh highlighted the nation’s exceptionally low birthrate, emphasizing that if Koreans persist in their reluctance to have children, the country will need to introduce new immigration policies, such as “absorbing as much as possible” a high-quality workforce from abroad.
He specifically mentioned international students attending Korean universities as top candidates for permanent residency.
However, Oh said any new immigration plan must be based on social consensus.
Korea has the lowest total fertility rate in the world, standing at 0.78 as of last year. The total fertility rate is the average number of births a woman is projected to give during her reproductive years.
Korea’s total fertility rate has consistently dropped since 2015 when the figure was 1.24.
A total fertility rate of at least 2 is needed to sustain a country’s population.
“We must invest in childcare and make the maximum effort possible to [convince people] to have at least one more child,” said Oh. “However, despite sustaining such investments for several years, if the birth rate does not significantly change and if those policy investments are perceived to be ineffective, and if society agrees, then I think we may approach a time when immigration should be considered as an alternative solution.”
The “easiest” way to approach immigration is to target international students, Oh said.
“As recently as several years ago, a high portion [of international students] were Chinese, but now we’re seeing much more diversification, including students from Southeast Asia,” said the mayor.
The international students, he added, are a “foundation” from which the Seoul Metropolitan Government can explore effective immigration policies.
“Japan was very negative toward immigration at first, but they have become a lot more open-minded recently.”
On public transportation fees, Oh said a raise was “inevitable,” and that the city has already decided to increase bus fares by 300 won (23 cents).
With subway fees, Oh said his city government needs to discuss the matter with the local governments of Gyeonggi and Incheon, given that the three areas, which make up the Seoul metropolitan area, “share the same livelihood zone.”
Precisely when the hikes will take place was not disclosed. Oh said he was discussing the issue with the central government.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN [email@example.com]